Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 3/25/12
HOUSTON Come the middle of April, depending upon where the Rockets sit in the Western Conference playoff picture, how they lost to the Mavericks Saturday night at Toyota Center will be rendered moot. Their valiance and gumption and perseverance served them well for 48-plus minutes, but if the Rockets find themselves on the outside looking in at the postseason for a third consecutive spring, the fact that they fought hard while shorthanded won't offer them much consolation. The bottom line is that the Rockets dropped a critical game to the Mavericks, falling 101-99 in overtime to slip into ninth place in the West, one game in the loss column behind the Jazz and Nuggets. The Rockets (26-23) were without their starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection) and Kevin Martin (strained right shoulder) for a seventh consecutive game, and while they rose from the mat to force the extra session thanks in large part to Chandler Parsons' game-tying 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left, the Rockets could not complete another improbable finish against a healthy and superior opponent. "We're playing well considering our two leading scorers are out, our two leaders, our starting backcourt," Parsons said after producing 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in 46 grueling minutes. "Every time someone goes down that gives other people an opportunity to step up, and guys are stepping up." But what happens when the shortened bench doesn't step up? How much longer can the Rockets hold on when their reserves are outscored 44-13 like they were against the Mavericks (28-22)? When Chase Budinger, whose 4-for-11 shooting included a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime, and Patrick Patterson (0-for-7) struggle, where will the Rockets find the scoring to complement the starters' production? Rockets coach Kevin McHale expressed concern over the increasing minutes logged by Goran Dragic, who had averaged 36 minutes since replacing Lowry eight games ago. Following that pregame lamentation McHale played Dragic 47 minutes against the Mavericks because Dragic played exceptionally and because, with Courtney Fortson recently signed off the street to occasionally spell Dragic, McHale had no choice. Fortson played a grand total of 90 seconds following the halftime break. Dragic was charged with orchestrating the offense and defending a seemingly endless rotation of Mavericks guards from Jason Kidd to Rodrigue Beaubois and occasionally Jason Terry. Defensive breakdowns come with the territory, and after Dragic posted 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds, it would have been outlandish to chastise his effort. "We did a lot of good things so I'm not (complaining)," McHale said. "It is what it is. You're going to get shots at certain times, and we had a great opportunity to stretch that game out a little bit." The only way the Rockets could have stretched their leads on the Mavericks was to play their starters from start to finish. The reserves posted a minus-30 plusminus rating. With Dragic and Courtney Lee (15 points on 6-for-20 shooting over 42 minutes) starting, the second unit is sorely lacking in scoring punch. McHale clearly didn't want to offer any excuses over his predicament, particularly after the same shorthanded roster authored wins over the Thunder and Lakers in the past 11 days. But these things tend to deteriorate cumulatively, and when the Rockets were gassed, they hit a wall. "Guys have got to go out there and they've got to play well," McHale said. "The guys that are on the floor have got to get the job done. Next man up; you've got to go play." Against the Thunder in Oklahoma City and following Tuesday's win over the Lakers the Rockets could afford to pat themselves on the back. Their grit was rewarded with victories that kept them in the thick of the postseason chase and proved the value of teamwork and camaraderie. The Rockets were just as cohesive and determined against the Mavericks, but the bottom line resulted in a difficult defeat. With no return in sight for Lowry and Martin the Rockets must keep pressing forward, even as the minutes accumulate and the playoffs approach. "It's what it is right now; we've only got 10 guys that can play," Budinger said. "What makes it difficult is we aren't able to practice too much because we just don't have the bodies. I'm pleased with the way everybody has been playing with the extra minutes everybody has been having to (log). "(We) just (have to) keep competing like we have been. Guys need to keep stepping it up for us and just keep competing. Hopefully we get those guys back, and they can definitely help us down the stretch try to get as many wins as we can." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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