I know I’m not the only one thinking this: It’s just too tantalizing to ignore.
As I witness (and marvel at) one of the greatest team achievements in pro basketball history, I can’t help but wonder where it’s all going. Not how many games the Houston Rockets will win before their streak – now at a mind-blowing 22 games, the second-longest in NBA history – comes to an historic end. But whether this wondrous feat, no matter how long it lasts, will ultimately be remembered as nothing more than a prelude for the Big Fall.
I wonder if they’ll become this year’s Dallas Mavericks.
I’m not trying to diminish the streak at all. I was never one who believed the streak should have been minimized because, until the Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, none of their wins had come against any of the other top five teams in the Western Conference. Twenty-two straight wins is twenty-two straight wins – whether the opponents are the New York Knicks or the local CYO team. (I will resist the temptation to note that some might consider the latter to be the stiffer competition.)
Nor am I disparaging the Mavs, who charged through the 2006-’07 regular season with the league’s best record, only to endure a stunning fall to eight-seeded Golden State in the opening round of the playoffs. Far from it. As my regular blog-readers know, I co-authored a book with Mavs coach Avery Johnson. (“Aspire Higher: Winning On and Off the Court with Determination, Discipline and Decisions,” which hits bookstores next week. You can even buy it HERE now! Yes, shameless plug.) So you know my publisher (Harper Collins), my accountant and my two kids are hoping for an extended playoff run!
But the parallels are intriguing and inescapable. Last season, the Mavs looked to be on a John Wayne-like mission to erase the nightmare of ’06 when they lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals four games to two after winning the first two games at home. They barreled through the heart of the season, challenged the 70-win mark, ended with 67 victories and were a near-consensus pick to win it all.
Then they ran into the buzz saw that was Golden State. Led by a former Mavs coach (Don Nelson) with a quirky and lightening-paced playing style and a point guard fueled by Lord knows what sort of redemptive pixie dust (Baron Davis), the Warriors pulled off a shocking four-games-to-two upset that still reverberates in some parts of Big D.
The Rockets – yes, the Houston Rockets – are now the best team in the Western Conference. Their 46-20 record puts them one game ahead of the Lakers. But right now, I don’t know anyone who’s picking the Rockets to be standing next to NBA Commissioner David Stern in June and accepting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Heck, I don’t know anyone picking them to win the Western Conference. Hello, anyone out there want to stand up for the Rockets reaching the Western Conference finals? I didn’t think so.
How can you when this team has never survived the opening round in the Tracy McGrady Era (since 2004). Indeed ten seasons have passed since the Rockets last played more than one playoff round. And that was perhaps the most high-powered Rockets team ever, with three of the league’s 50 Greatest Players Ever: Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley. Each of those players would probably still start for these Rockets! (Okay, maybe not Charles, at least not without a couple of workouts.)
I love what the Rockets are doing, and love how they’re doing it – as a team, on both ends of the floor. They’re doing it with Dikembe Mutumbo, for goodness sakes! Yes, they’ve been a tad lucky (The Lakers were without Andrew Bynum and new-stud acquisition, Pau Gasol.) But there isn’t enough luck in the world to account for a 22-game win streak – in any sport.
All I’ll say is celebrate it now. Drink it in and digest it for all it’s worth. Because while the Rockets are winning, they’re expending a lot of energy (mentally and physically) when, ideally, the top teams would like to be fine-tuning for their playoff run.
And no matter when the streak ends, Houston will carry the heavy weight of expectations into the playoffs.
Oh, I almost forgot: If the post season began today, the Houston Rockets’ opening -round foe would be – yes – Golden State.
Davis and the Warriors just may be awaiting…