Eugoogly: The Houston Rockets’ Winning Streak
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 19, 2008
“The worst team ever to win 20 in a row”
Check that video, a tribue to the ’07-’08 Houston Rockets entitled “That’s My Team.” As far as single-team/single-season tributes it ranks below Jim Jones’ ’06 Giantsified “We Fly High” and far above the ’86 Dodgers’ recent YouTube sensation “Baseball Boogie,” but less important than how good or bad the song actually is–what a weird team to have a song devoted to. Listen to some of those names. Steve Novak. Aaron Brooks. Carl Landry. Luther Head. If this song had been leaked a mere month and a half ago, it would’ve seen hilariously over-optimistic. Now some of these jobbers are practically household names.
And that was the 22-0 Houston Rockets. Of the dozen or so players namechecked namechecked in “That’s My Team,” I think it’s relatively safe to say that only four of them–Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutumbo and Steve Francis–are likely to endure in the public memory 15-20 years from now. And three of those dudes couldn’t even be considered steady contributors to the streak. Yao peaced out for the season 12 games into the streak, causing many (including myself) to predict the end not only of their streak but of their playoff chances, Deke only came in at Center after Yao’s absence and then rarely played more than 20 minutes a game, and of course Steve Francis was never even a factor at all, having season-ending surgery well before the streak started. T-Mac was the only star throughout the streak, and even he was no LeBron in terms of game-owning consistency, scoring 11 points or less four times throughout the streak.
Yet, 22 in a row. One more than a Bucks team with Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson could manage, and knocking on the door of the Lakers team with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. And they did it with a sole unreliable superstar, a 27-year-old Argentinian NBA n00b, a fundamentals-first ex-college star, a point guard who peaked on the New York playgrounds, a D-League pickup, an underappreciated rookie and a couple three-point shooters. To quoth Marlo Stanfield for the billionth time, “It just don’t seem possible.”
I guess that’s why everyone took so much to this story. When the Blazers won 13 in a row earlier this season, I got similarly swept up–a young team that no one expected much from managing to band together, overcome all odds and force the world to take notice. And it’s not like the Rockets lacked that kind of underdog likeability, whether it was Tracy bringing on the doubters, Shane Battier making sarcastically self-depcrecating comments about the team’s standing with the NBA’s other great streakers (is there any other NBA player right now whose career seems a mere prelude to a long and fruitful career doing color commentary on TNT?) or the entire team trying on their best Mutumbo voices–these were the kind of guys you wanted to root for, surely.
But I just couldn’t get into it. Possibly it was just my anti-Yao prejudice for the first 12 games, and my distress at their disrupting my otherwise potentially picture-perfect Western Conference playoff projections. Maybe it was that some of their more impressive wins just felt a little too convenient–facing the Hornets without David West, the Mavs the day of Dirk’s one-day suspension, and the Lakers a game after Pau’s twisted ankle, never getting that one solidifying win against a truly elite team at full power. Mostly, though, I just don’t think I could wrap my head around it. The Blazers going for 13, OK, good luck and a better schedule could explain that. But the Rockets, a team that was barely flirting with .500 halfway through the season, going for 22 with one-and-a-half stars and a bunch of role players? The cognitive dissonance was just too much for me to handle. It just didn’t feel like it should’ve been history.
That’s why it’s only fitting, I think, that their first loss in 23 games should come as it did last night. Not in some epic cross-state bout with the Mavericks, not in a down-to-the-wire shooters’ duel between T-Mac and Kobe, not even in an ironic loss to an even bigger underdog like the Hawks or Bobcats. Rather, it came at the hands of an utterly graceless trouncing by a shorthanded Celtics, a team that just straight-up outplayed the Rockets across the board for the entire second half. Because despite the confidence, despite the momentum, despite the synergy (dear lord, why would anyone outside of Dilbert willingly use this word), these were, with one or two exceptions, the same group of human beings that were barely even being considered as top eight contenders in the West just a month and a half ago. And teams like that have a tendency to get crushed by a 50+-win team every now and then.
Now, in my opinion, is when the real story begins. Do the Rockets manage to mostly keep it up? Does their sudden reversal in momentum end up sinking them in their potentially-deadly upcoming West tour of the Hornets, Suns and Warriors? Do they stay a #1 seed, or do they fall out of the playoffs entirely? In any event, now that all the hype is sure to die down, I’ll be interested in evaluating the team on its own merits, and see if they really are a group of loveable underdogs worth rooting for against a favorite like the Lakers or Spurs, or just a bunch of serendipitous supporting players lucky enough to have 22 games break their way in a row. Yet another reason to stay glued to the NBA for the next month and a half.
The Houston Rockets’ 22-Game Undefeated Streak, Jan 29. 2008 – Mar 19. 2008