The Houston Rockets won't advance to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but they've been playing at a high level lately.
Playing their final road game, the Rockets look to clinch their fourth straight winning season Monday night when they face the Sacramento Kings.
Out of the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06, Houston (41-39) was on the verge of winning its fourth straight Sunday, but were outscored 14-0 by Phoenix in a late fourth-quarter run and fell 116-106. The Rockets' previous two wins were against playoff-bound Utah and Charlotte.
"You can just look at the West and see - that team is a quality team and they're not going to make the playoffs,'' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of Houston. "They're a real quality team."
The Rockets, though, have lost two of three to Sacramento (25-55) this season, including a 109-100 defeat in their only visit to Arco Arena on Nov. 13.
Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, who scored 20 points in that matchup, is 24 shy of becoming just the fourth rookie in NBA history to average 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. The others were Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Evans is averaging 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists in two games versus the Rockets. He missed a 113-106 loss in Houston on Nov. 21 with a sprained middle finger and sore ankle.
Despite the Kings losing nine of 10 to fall into the Pacific Division basement with Golden State, forward Carl Landry has been a bright spot for Sacramento. Acquired from Houston in February as part of a nine-player deal that sent Kevin Martin to the Rockets, Landry is averaging 18.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26 games with his new team.
Sacramento, though, has just two games remaining - and one at home - before Landry's year is over and a fourth straight season passes without the Kings in the playoffs.
"I never want the season to come to an end," Landry told the Kings' official Web site following Saturday's 126-108 loss to Dallas. "I wish that we could go to the playoffs like I did the last two years in Houston, but at the same time I can look at it as a positive. I have more time to become a better player for next year and help this ballclub get to where we need to go."
In his first game in Houston since the deal, Landry had 22 points and 10 boards in an 84-81 victory on March 3.
Martin scored 13 in that matchup, and is averaging 20.3 points on 42.2 percent shooting since the trade. According to Rockets coach Rick Adelman, Martin was limited to six minutes in the second half Sunday due to illness.
Rockets forward Luis Scola had 30 points with eight rebounds Sunday, and is averaging 20.3 points and 13.0 rebounds versus the Kings this season.
Houston's last losing season was 2005-06 when it finished 34-48.