Irish pub crawls in Chicago rock. Recovery from them, however, does not. So no Worst of the Weekend today. Instead, I wanted to say a few words about the Houston Rockets, whose winning streak reached 22 games with yesterday's 104-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
In case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard, that's the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. Only Bill Sharman's immortal 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers -- starring Hall-of-Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich -- won more games in a row. And while winning streaks, however long and impressive, don't necessarily make a champion, they do make for dramatic, must-see basketball. So I keep wondering: Why are so many people so eager and determined to dismiss The Streak?
Seriously, I've spent the past week or two defending the Rockets' winning ways from the snipings of a variety of fans and friends. The main criticisms being leveled against Houston fall into two catagories:1. They've had an easy schedule
Frankly, it's virtually impossible in today's NBA to have 22 consecutive "easy" games, regardless of who you have to play or where you have to play them. But that's basically what a lot of people are claiming (and what people seem to claim almost any time a team goes on an extended winning streak). It's the big "but" that sneaks into every article and blog post about The Streak. Even the Associated Press recap of Number 22 had this to say: "Critics continue to dismiss Houston's streak as a fluke, saying the Rockets have played a bunch of bad teams." So, what, winning only counts if you play every game on the road against the top two or three teams in each conference?
Let's look at some facts about The Streak. Yes, Rockets have had plenty of games against sub-.500 teams, but they've also faced the Cleveland Cavaliers (twice), Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets (twice), and Portland Trail Blazers. So even if you totally discount the rest of their games -- and you shouldn't -- it simply isn't true that they haven't played any good teams.
Now, it is
true that they've played only seven road games, but three of those games were against Cleveland (22-10 at home), New Orleans (24-10), and Dallas (29-4). Of course, Dirk Nowitzki was suspended for the Rockets/Mavericks game owing to the fact that he had tried to behead Andre Kirilenko a few days prior, so the critics will probably toss that one in the trash as well. But the Rockets still hit the road and took care of business in a (small) handful of tough arenas.
As for yesterday's game against the Lakers...I must have gotten a dozen text messages immediately following the final buzzer, and most of them were a variant of "But the Lakers didn't have Pau." Fair enough. The Lakers' big man missed the game with a sprained ankle. However, if the Lakers really are
the champions in waiting, shouldn't they be bigger than the loss of any one player who's not named Kobe Bryant? Let me put it this way...
I have a friend -- a die-hard Lakers fan -- who was thoroughly unimpressed with Houston's 20th win in a row, coming as it did in an ugly win over the Hawks in Atlanta. Of couse, the Lakers lost to the Hawks
in a similar situation a few weeks ago. And the people who don't think much of the Rockets' opponents during The Streak should take a closer look at the "murderer's row" the Lakers faced during their recent 18-5 streak...a streak that had everybody crowning the Lakers and clamoring for Kobe to win the MVP. That streak included wins against Toronto (twice, once without Bosh), Washington (minus Caron and Agent Zero), New Jersey (as the J-Kidd situation was reaching critical mass), Orlando (and their terribly flawed backcourt), Miami (twice), Charlotte, Minnesota, Atlanta (in L.A.), Phoenix (in the Suns' first game with Shaq), the Clippers twice (no Chris Kaman or Sam Cassell), Seattle, Portland in L.A. (awful road team), Dallas at home in OT (and trying to adjust to J-Kidd), and Sacramento.
Now can anybody explain to me why that streak -- which included losses to the Pistons, Hawks, Blazers, and Kings (in L.A.) -- was considered more legit than what the Rockets have done? It's not even as though the Lakers were winning in more impressive fashion. I mean, 14 of the Rockets 22 victories have been by double figures, including 10 straight at one point. No, I'd guess it's because the Lakers have Kobe, and they have Pau, and they have a bench that many believe is the strongest and deepest in the league. Basically, it's because what the Lakers have on paper looks better than what Houston has on paper, which effectively refutes what we can see happening right before our eyes.
Here's something to consider: If the Rockets can't lose even without Yao Ming and the Lakers can't win without Pau Gasol, what does that say about each team? Or, for that matter, Kobe's claim on the MVP?2. They can't win a title
As The Streak has grown longer and longer, this non-argument seems to be picking up steam. What does it matter if the Rockets win 22 in a row, 26 in a row, even 33 in a row? Because it's not like they can win the NBA championship, right? Not without Yao, not with Tracy McGrady's history of injuries and first round choke jobs, not with so many good Western Conference teams. No, they can't win a title, ergo all this winning is bereft of meaning and significance. Right?
Frankly, I think all that is moot. Only one team is going to win the NBA championship this season. That means there's going to be one winner and 29 losers. And last I checked, there isn't a team in the league that's so utterly flawless we should just hand them the Larry O'Brien trophy and be done with it. So what if the Rockets don't win it all? They'll be in pretty good company even if they don't. Why does that even matter?
We don't need to overanalyze and nitpick every time a team goes on a long winning streak. I say that, when a team is shining, let 'em shine. Basketball is a game. Winning is fun. I think we should congratulate the Rockets for an historic accomplishment and appreciate the fact that they've given us something worth paying attention to during what is typically one of the slowest months of the NBA season. But maybe that's just me.
Labels: Houston Rockets, Tracy McGrady, winning streaks, Yao Ming