First, what’s the significance? The Houston Rockets became the “worst” team to win an NBA championship, beating out three 50+ win teams en route to the trophy. This included, as many of us will remember, the Orlando Magic in a 4-0 sweep in the NBA Finals. With the win-loss record sputtering this year as compared to a typical SVG year, I looked into comparing the two teams for fun just to see if there were any commonalities between the two. Obviously, as a fan I live in world where the Magic, despite what the current atmosphere suggests, can still make a run for the Finals. Did anyone feel the same about the Houston Rockets in 1994-1995?
Unlike the Orlando Magic this year, the Rockets had that playoff experience most consider necessary for deep runs. The previous year the Rockets had won the NBA finals and were considered favorites the entire year. However, the same was not said of them the year after: these same Rockets finished in the 6th seed in the West only garnering 47 wins. Failing to make the most of their players, they traded starting PF Otis Thorpe to Portland for Clyde Drexler, a former teammate of Olajuwon’s. However, team troubles continued, as read from the Rocket’s official website: “As if that weren't enough, guard Vernon Maxwell became frustrated with playing a backup role to Drexler and took a leave of absence. All of this meant that the Rockets entered the playoffs missing three of their top seven players from the defending champions, and the club seemed especially vulnerable at power forward. Meanwhile, three players who were not even in the league when the season began-Chucky Brown, Charles Jones, and Pete Chilcutt-were signed and given vital roles in the late stretches.” Needless to say, these Rockets were able to put the seasonal drama behind them and won a championship.
Statistically the teams were different. The Magic had better defense but the Rockets had better offense, typical of a Tomjanovich coached team. Both teams were lead by an offense and defensive-minded center who would (soon) win the MVP. Both teams traded their starting power forward mid-season in hopes of bolstering their inside presence, though the Magic took what they already have had made the most of the least. Granted, Clyde Drexler’s play is the stuff of legends, so factoring him into the equation may be a bit unfair. But who is to say trading a player essentially trades the statistics? Trading for Jason Richardson could have gone either way, having been the leading scorer for the Phoenix Suns. Do we, as fans, expect the same caliber of performance in completely different circumstances? For Drexler it worked; he excelled with a former teammate and the system ran like clockwork. We consider it a success because they won a championship despite all odds against them. What is our measure of success, especially in context of the trades working out? Dwight has stated that nothing short of a championship is a success. In the past few months, though, the goal of success has become muddled and we grope to find more realistic goals as our fears become realized: the odds of winning the championship are against us.
But I say ‘So, what?’ Let's beat those odds.
Many have criticized that the Magic’s February trades have made the team worse. They claim that much of the momentum that helped the 2008-2009 Magic reach the NBA Finals is gone. However, we will never know what could have been and are faced with what will be. I still believe, even in my cynical few of our stagger to season’s end, that we can make the run. We will show true grit, and we will get through this.