April 12, 2016 / 7:02 AM / in a year

Rockets home in on playoff zone after early turbulence

Apr 11, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) tries to wrestle the ball away from Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones (1) in the second quarter at Target Center. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Houston Rockets scripted a stunning turnaround to stand one win away from salvaging their once-shaky playoff hopes following a tumultuous season.

With Monday’s blowout 129-105 victory over Minnesota, and Utah’s loss to Dallas, the Rockets (40-41) climbed back into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

They can clinch a post-season berth with a victory against Sacramento in the season finale on Wednesday.

It is a small consolation for a franchise that reached the conference finals a year ago, but considering Houston appeared buried late last week they will gladly take the turnaround.

“The fire under us, it is lit,” Rockets guard Patrick Beverley told reporters after he helped the team win a second straight game to catch Utah (40-41).

“This is not how we wanted it to be at the end of the season, (but) better late than never.”

Houston’s intention of repeating last season’s success was deflated early when they lost their first three games by 20 points each.

Team leader James Harden struggled out of the gate as there were rumblings that he showed up out of shape for the campaign.

Coach Kevin McHale was fired after just 11 games, with the team 4-7, and replaced by assistant J.B. Bickerstaff but that did little to fix the team’s troubles.

The defensive efforts of Harden and lack of chemistry between him and center Dwight Howard were just some of the questions surrounding the team.

After their third defeat in four games on Thursday, Houston trailed eighth place Utah by a game and a half with just three remaining.

The Jazz suffered a pair of last-second defeats last week that aided the Rockets and now they are positioned to crawl into the playoffs and make the best of a rocky season.

“We control our own destiny. It’s our playoffs (right now),” Harden said. “It’s our last game (Wednesday) and we have to go out there and win. We’ll figure (everything else) out once the game is over.”

Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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