The Rockets were smoking hot, so you dismissed the loss in Miami as one caused by fatigue.
However, at home against the Kings and with several Super Bowl celebrities in attendance, the Rockets let the game slip away in the fourth quarter as Sacramento won 99-94 in the Toyota Center.
The concern now is have the Rockets gone back to the "two steps forward, two steps back" mentality?
Indeed, the Kings are currently the top elite team in the Western Conference, but the Rockets had several chances to pull away from Sacramento and they just managed to always keep them within arm's reach.
The final straw was late in the fourth, when an alleyoop pass to Kelvin Cato got nasty. Cato threw down the dunk, added some pizazz, then slapped the backboard on his way down, staring at the King defender.
It put the Rockets up 83-80, but the ref immediately slapped Cato with a tech. That sparked a 10-0 Kings run, and Sacramento never really had to seriously look back from there. A late last-minute scare by the Rockets was never too big of a concern.
Overall, the Rockets made the mistake tonight of trying to run with the Kings. 9 times out of 10 the Kings will win that battle. The Rockets actually shot fairly well (47.5%), but turned it over 22 times to Sacramento's 10 cough-ups.
And for the second consecutive game, the Rockets defense gave up 95 points or more.
As for the players, it starts with Jim Jackson ... wow. I can't give him enough props for his performance tonight. Jackson hit his first 10 shots and didn't miss until there was 1:20 left in the game. He led the Rockets with 28 points on 11-12 shooting, including 5-5 from downtown, against his former club.
Keep in mind, this is coming off a 1-12 performance in Miami, so Jackson bounced back in a big, big way. If not for his shooting tonight this would have been a blowout for the Kings.
Maurice Taylor also had an excellent game, hitting 8-14 shots for 18 points and (get this) 14 rebounds. Fourteen. You have to be excited about Mo Taylor's play this season.
On the other hand of the spectrum I present to you Steve Francis, and if I may abuse the most overused cliche for our town: Houston, we have a problem.
Francis was 3-17 from the floor. Folks, that's ballgame. Very few teams can pull out 'W's when a player misses 14 of 17 shots, and against the Kings you can chalk that up as suicide.
The bigger problem though is not this game, but Francis himself. I mentioned after the Miami loss that I worry about Francis' confidence, and now it's got to be a huge concern.
In the last 3 games, Francis has missed 29 of his 37 shot attempts. Over his last 5 he is shooting under 29%. For the season he is now under 39% (38.9%).
Steve did have a season-high 13 assists, and you have to give him a lot of credit for that, but his 14 missed shots and inability to contain Mike Bibby (28 points on 11-18 shooting) were too much to overcome.
I didn't think Cuttino Mobley (19 points) was a huge positive tonight either. He hit three 3's early on, but missed 8 other attempts from downtown ... 2 of which were rushed badly in the final couple of minutes when the Rockets could have had a chance to seriously threaten Sacramento.
As for Yao Ming, this was one of those "not aggressive enough" nights. 5-10 shooting for 12 points and 11 boards, but Yao has to be the one demanding the ball and making strong moves. Tonight he wasn't doing that.
It's not time to hit the panic button. The Kings are tough, and have always been a handfull for the Rockets. This is still the same Rockets team that manhandled the Timberwolves in Houston and stunned the Pacers in Indiana, but they clearly are not a polished product yet.