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Sam Smith: Can Del Harris be a part of history repeating?

Bulls Asst. Coach Del Harris' 1981 Houston Rockets ended the season 40-42 and made a surprising run to the NBA Finals before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.


Sam Smith at Bulls.com

New team of destiny?


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Del Harris "I always say, 'The only teams that don't have a chance to go to the Finals are the teams that don't get into the playoffs,'" said Harris. "Once you are in, anything can happen."

Coverage: 2009 Bulls Playoff Central

It was a team of destiny.

They made a big midseason trade that changed the team, though still finished around .500 and barely qualified for the playoffs. They finished strong to get there with seven wins in 10 games before getting blown out in the final game of the season. Playing a short rotation of basically six and seven players, they opened the playoffs against the defending champions, and they pulled a huge upset and shockingly got to the NBA Finals.

It sounds like it could be the story of this season's Bulls team.

But it was the story of Del Harris' 1981 Houston Rockets, who ended the season 40-42 and made a surprising run to the NBA Finals before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.

"I always say, 'The only teams that don't have a chance to go to the Finals are the teams that don't get into the playoffs,'" said Harris, now the lead Bulls assistant coach. "Once you are in, anything can happen. We qualified for the playoffs after the 81st game. Most people wrote us off. The last two weeks we got to playing and won four in a row.

"We got in and we faced the defending champion Lakers and no one gave us a chance," Harris recalled. "We won Game 1 on a last second shot, then lost Game 2 (in Houston), so it looked over for us. We went back (to L.A.) and Magic Johnson missed a last shot and we won Game 3 (then best of three first round series). And it was over.

"Then we had to play San Antonio. They had the best record," said Harris. "We won three games on their home court. Nobody thought that was possible. Kansas City (which also was 40-42) upset Phoenix, which made it easier. We beat them 4-1 and played he Celtics in the Finals.

"I've seen teams come in hot and cold," said Harris. "There's no one way. But given the choice, I'd rather come in with momentum. The thing about finishing a season strong is players begin to believe they can win (the Bulls ended 12-4 to go 41-41). Confidence is such a big factor in sports. That had a lot to do with it for us. We had competitors, Moses (Malone), Calvin (Murphy). Not only them. Mike Dunleavy, Tommy Henderson, Robert Reid, Billy Paultz. We traded John Shumate for Billy Paultz during the season.

"We weren't winning," said Harris. "So we decided to go with two centers (adding Paultz) and we slowed it down and set records for rebounding. I couldn't give you a date on it, but they became a team. We were just a bunch of guys playing ball.

"The same with these (Bulls) guys," said Harris. "We went on that seven game trip (just before the mid season trades). It took about 10 days and sometime after that they started pulling for one another and being a real team. The same thing happened with that Houston team when we got hot late and then we went through the playoffs."

Could it happen again?