How have the Houston Rockets won 20 games in a row?

The stadium scene.
March 13 2008 4:15 PM

This Is One of the Greatest Teams in NBA History?

The mystery of the Houston Rockets' 20-game winning streak.

(Continued from Page 1)

The Rockets' toughness and team mentality are the keys to reeling off a streak during the dog days of the regular season. They aren't necessarily traits that win playoff series, however. That's especially the case in the ridiculously loaded West, where Denver might miss the playoffs despite having a better record than all but three Eastern Conference teams. Heck, Houston's streak has only gotten them into second place in the West, a mere three and a half games ahead of eighth-place Golden State. If they go on a bad streak the rest of the way, they could still miss the playoffs.

Advertisement

Right now, the Lakers look like a team built for the post-season. Los Angeles was the hands-down winner at last month's trade deadline, acquiring gifted seven-footer Pau Gasol from Memphis in the hoops equivalent of the sale of Manhattan for a bunch of beads. The deal instantly turned the Lakers from a dysfunctional, if dangerous, mess in thrall to Kobe Bryant's ego into championship contenders.

The rest of the West responded to the Gasol trade like the United States after Sputnik beeped its way over the horizon: first, panic, than the inevitable Space Race. Phoenix traded Shawn Marion for the redoubtable Shaquille O'Neal. Dallas sent rising star Devin Harris to New Jersey for Jason Kidd. Even the defending-champion Spurs felt threatened enough to get the band back together, reacquiring ring bearer Kurt Thomas.

Meanwhile, Houston made a deal that attracted almost no attention, offloading crazed forward Bonzi Wells for backup guard Bobby Jackson. The exile of the me-first Wells predated the Yao injury but so perfectly suited the team's new direction that it seems like a response. Houston is now tougher and friskier (and, thanks to the inclusion of expiring contracts in the Wells deal, well-positioned under the cap for next season).

Can the Rockets emerge victorious after what promises to be an epic two months of playoff combat? The key will be their ability to overwhelm the aging teams (San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix) with waves of bodies and energy, while being smarter and better able to exploit mismatches than the conference's younger, faster squads (New Orleans, Utah, Golden State). If McGrady can overcome his historic allergic reaction to playoff hoops (he has yet to win a series in his otherwise sterling career), I think they can defeat any of those teams.

That leaves the Lakers, who have both extreme firepower (Kobe Bryant, Gasol) and superb role players (Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton). They'll prove a tough stop for the Rockets or anyone else. In fact, Los Angeles is an enhanced version of Houston. Kobe is better than T-Mac, Gasol is better than the Battier/Scola combo, and the Lakers' glue guys do the little things just a bit better than the Rockets' complementary players. And, like Houston, Los Angeles has responded well to a key injury to a big guy: The team has lifted its play in the absence of Andrew Bynum, who has been out with a knee injury for two months. For the Rockets to make the NBA Finals, they might need a team with a dominant big man—think San Antonio and Tim Duncan—to take out the Bynum-less Lakers. The matchups will be crucial, so pay attention to the stretch run. That shouldn't be a problem—for the first time since the Lakers were winning 33 in a row, there's a reason to watch the NBA regular season.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:03 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Ubiquity of Gotham
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.