At no point during their successful regular-season campaign did the Houston Rockets lose more than two consecutive games, on their way to 56 wins and the No. 2 playoff seeding in the rugged Western Conference.
Either the Rockets follow that pattern when they meet the Clippers in Game 5 Tuesday night at the Toyota Center, or Houston's season will come to a sudden end with its first three-game losing streak of the season.
The Rockets lost the last two games in Los Angeles to put them in a 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven second-round series, and they weren't even close. They lost by 25 points in Game 3 and were pummeled by 33 points in Game 4.
"I'm not going to quit," Dwight Howard said in Houston's quiet locker room Sunday night after Game 4. "And I'm pretty sure these guys are not just going to give up on the series."
Howard lost his composure Sunday, playing only 19 minutes before fouling out, and then getting ejected on top of that when he picked up a second technical foul in the fourth quarter. The NBA on Monday fined Howard $15,000 for making contact above the shoulders with Clippers forward Matt Barnes.
These are desperate times for the Rockets, and they are playing their worst basketball. They did not practice Monday, but they all know what's at stake.
"We've got to win the next one," Howard said. "If we don't, we'll be on vacation. So, we have to get our minds right and protect our home."
It will have to start with the Rockets bearing down and playing some defense. They are giving up 119.5 points per game in the series and were rocked for 128 points in Game 4, including 43 in a third quarter that basically put the game on ice for the Clippers.
Houston has seen the Clippers consistently knife through its defense to shoot 49.7% from the field and 38.8% from three-point range in the series. The Rockets have talked all series about playing better defense, but they have yet to do so.
"We are down 3-1, but the series is not over," forward Trevor Ariza said. "[The Clippers] still have to win the fourth game and the good thing about it is that we are going home."
It would help some if Howard could stay on the floor more. He's averaging 2.8 blocks per game in the series, but he's also averaging 4.3 fouls, which limits his playing time. Howard is averaging 32.5 minutes per game, clearly not enough to be a force in the middle.
"We've come too far to quit," Howard said. "We've come too far to let a little adversity stop us. We just have to continue to stay positive."