The Houston Rockets offered a familiar refrain late Monday, one often uttered by veteran teams that occasionally lose focus during the monotonous grind of an 82-game, six-month regular season.
The Sacramento Kings played with more verve at Toyota Center and were rewarded for their effort, squeezing out a 119-118 victory when Nemanja Bjelica drilled a 33-footer at the final buzzer. Sacramento had played the previous night in Dallas and last Friday in San Antonio in the first leg of the Texas triangle yet attacked the Rockets with boundless and ceaseless energy.
Houston led by 11 points in the second quarter yet allowed the Kings to snap a 10-game losing skid at Toyota Center. Now the Rockets must travel to Cleveland to face the scuffling Cavaliers Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena saddled by this truth: they gave away the previous game.
"It's not good," Rockets forward P.J. Tucker said. "We shouldn't have been in that situation. We played down the whole game, let them stay in the game there in a back-to-back. We should have came out with a lot more energy, attacked a lot more (and) been a lot more aggressive on defense. It shouldn't have gotten to that point."
The Rockets have been here before, and perhaps performances like these are endemic of veteran rosters. Houston is the third-oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 29.1 years.
Still, considering the competitiveness of the Western Conference, surrendering games at home to inferior opponents with injury-riddled rotations can prove punitive. With the Cavaliers having dropped seven straight games and 13 of 14, the Rockets have an immediate shot to rectify their general malaise.
"You've got to be consistent on that part and take ownership in yourself," Rockets guard Russell Westbrook said following his season-best 34-point effort. "There isn't much you can do about it. I can do the best that I can making sure that we try to keep our pace, but I think collectively we've got to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we can be able to bring it every single night and be responsible for our own actions and then look elsewhere."
Consistent energy should a given for the youthful Cavaliers, who remain stifled by myriad problems. Following its 110-88 loss at Boston on Monday, Cleveland ranked 28th in offensive rating, 29th in defensive rating and last in net rating at minus-10.9 points per 100 possessions.
Considering their limitations, the Cavaliers are seeking positives within the margins. Against the Celtics, Cleveland shaved what was a 29-point third-quarter deficit to 85-73 on a John Henson layup with 8:59 remaining in the game. Mustering the fight to rally against a far superior outfit represented a modest step forward for a team desperate for anything to serve as a foundation.
"That's how we need to play," Cavaliers veteran forward Kevin Love said of the unit that ignited the rally late in the third quarter. "Problem is putting it together for a quarter, two quarters, three quarters, 48 minutes. But that was the bright spot for us."
--Field Level Media
Rockets look to bounce back against lowly Cavs