By Michael Pinto, for NBA.com
Posted May 20, 2013 2:33 PM
Until the Miami Heat won 27 games in a row in the 2012-13 season, the Houston Rockets' 22-game win streak in the 2007-08 season stood as the gold standard for consecutive wins in the modern NBA era.
Once the longest winning streak since the NBA-ABA merger, the Rockets' streak is actually considered by some to be more impressive than the one Miami put together five seasons later.
Unlike Miami, with a roster that featured the reigning regular season MVP and NBA Finals MVP in LeBron James (as well as a loaded supporting cast), Houston went through nearly half it's win streak with 7-foot-6 All-Star center Yao Ming sitting on the bench.
Yao, who suffered from ankle and foot problems throughout his stellar NBA career, broke his foot 12 games into the Rockets win streak and wouldn't return that season. The team would turn to 41-year-old center Dikembe Mutombo, now in his 17th season, and the 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes to fill the massive frontcourt void.
The team would win another 10 games before finally falling to the Boston Celtics on March 18, 2008, 50 days after the winning streak had begun on January 29.
With new coach Rick Adelman on the sidelines, replacing Jeff Van Gundy and his defensive-minded scheme with a high-paced offensive style, Houston came into the 2007-08 season with high hopes. The team struggled out the gates, though, heading into their last game in January with a record of 24-20.
Few, if any, could have predicted what would happen next. The Rockets would win their next 12 games — nine by double digits — before receiving the crushing news about Yao's injury
Rather than wallow, Houston instead rallied behind the team's remaining All-Star, guard Tracy McGrady. He would average 24.3 points, 5.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds after Yao's injury, and was helped by a supporting cast that far exceeded expectations.
Journeyman guard Rafer Alston played the best basketball of his career, averaging 15.7 points and 6.6 assists. Veteran defender Shane Battier stepped up with 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds, Mutombo and Hayes combined to offset the loss of Yao, and rookie guard Kyle Lowry stepped up with multiple double-digit point performances throughout the streak.
Houston would dominate the last 10 games of the win streak by an average of 14.5 points before falling to Boston 94-74.
With Yao sidelined, Houston finished the season 55-27, earning the fifth seed in one of the tightest Western Conference playoff races in NBA history. The Rockets faced the Utah Jazz in the first round and eventually lost the series in six games to the team that had eliminated Houston in seven first-round games a season earlier.
But nothing could take away from the team's epic regular season run.
Perhaps the man with the most insight is Battier, who was also a critical member of the Heat's streak in 2013.
"We knew back then that it was one of the most improbable runs in basketball history -- maybe even in sports history," Battier said reflecting on Houston's streak . "We were journeymen, a bunch of role players. When we were healthy -- with Yao [Ming] and Tracy [McGrady] -- that team was pretty good. But we could never stay healthy.
"That was our championship."
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