HOUSTON (AP)—The Houston Rockets clinched a playoff berth for the first time in five years Friday night, but they don’t want this to be the high point of their season.
Although confetti dropped from the rafters at the end of the game, the Rockets weren’t in much of a festive mood in the locker room afterward.
“Since my rookie year, all I’ve wanted to do was be in the playoffs,” Francis said. “But it’s like coach (Jeff Van Gundy) said, we don’t want to be complacent. We want to move up. We have games to play and we don’t want to just show up.
“We want to go in the playoffs on a good note. We know we can play with anybody. Tonight was a good game for us and we want to try and keep the same mentality. We don’t want to settle for just being in the playoffs. We want to make some noise in them.”
Cuttino Mobley, who had 22 points, hopes for better things in the playoffs.
“Now the monkey is off our backs,” Mobley said. “But the monkey will probably come back when we get in the playoffs. A lot of the good teams beat us in close games, but now we have to go out and play hard and see what happens.”
Yao Ming, who had 12 points and six rebounds, knows making the playoffs is important to the veterans.
“You can tell more from the other players because they’ve been here longer,” Yao said. “They have more of a feeling for it. It’s like New Year’s to me.”
Marcus Camby scored 23 points and Carmelo Anthony had 20 as the Nuggets lost for the sixth straight time in Houston. Denver dropped into a three-way tie with Utah and Portland for eighth place in the Western Conference.
“The third quarter was the difference,” Andre Miller said. “They started hitting open shots. The shots they missed in the first half, they made.”
Camby pointed to Saturday’s game against Portland as being huge for the Nuggets.
“It’s frustrating (losing Friday) but it’s not the end of the world,” Camby said. “The good thing about the NBA is you get to play again tomorrow. We play Portland tomorrow at home. That’s a big game because we’re still tied for eighth with them.
“We have two more games at home. We just have to take care of business. It’s not going to be easy. We’re playing tough opponents.”
Francis hit four free throws and Mobley made a 3-pointer in a span of 1:35 to give Houston its biggest lead, 99-92 with 2:29 to play.
Nene hit a follow shot with 18 seconds left to pull the Nuggets to 104-103, and Jim Jackson’s two free throws with 17 seconds to go made it 106-103.
Rodney White missed a desperation 3-point shot with five seconds to play and Miller missed a 25-footer at the buzzer.
Mobley scored 22 and Jackson 17 for Houston.
Mobley and Francis each had seven points in a 16-5 run in the third quarter that gave Houston its first lead since the opening basket, 73-70.
Francis had 15 third-quarter points as the Rockets led 78-73 going into the final quarter.
Nene scored eight points in the first quarter as the Nuggets led by as many as eight. They hit 63 percent (12-of-19) of their shots in the quarter and were on top 26-21 entering the second quarter.
Denver expanded the lead to 48-33 with Camby contributing six points in a 16-6 run in the second quarter. Camby had 12 and the Nuggets were shooting 59percent (23-of-39) as they led 52-42 at the half.
Houston needed a victory of its own and a loss by Portland to clinch. … The Rockets’ 36 points were their most this season in a third quarter and tied their best in any quarter. … Houston is 10-0 when shooting 50 percent from the field and 13-1 when it scores 100 points … Denver is 9-2 the last 11times it has scored 100 or more points.