Since joining the league in 1967, the Houston Rockets have managed to develop a winning pedigree over the course of multiple eras.
The Rockets have become playoff staples throughout the years. They’ve won two NBA titles, four conference titles, and seven division titles. It’s franchise information nearly everyone should know.
Houston is perhaps best known for having one of the best collection of big men in NBA history. The likes of Moses Malone, Ralph Samson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, and Dwight Howard all donned the Rockets jerseys at one point in their careers.
These centers were at the forefront of some of the best squads Rockets fielded in their rich franchise history.
Let’s have a look at the five best Rockets lineups of all time.
2007-08 Yao and T-Mac connection
This might be a controversial pick given that this team failed to get past the first round against the Jazz in the 2008 playoffs. However, the Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady-pairing led the Rockets to a remarkable 22-game regular season winning streak that year. That streak stands as the fourth-longest in league history.
The group managed to string those wins together even while their two best players, Yao and T-Mac, rarely shared the court due to separate injuries.
Led by the brilliant mind of head coach Rick Adelman, the group was stacked with terrific role players. Role players like Luis Scola, Shane Battier, Rafer Alston, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, and Aaron Brooks. Dikembe Mutombo also came up big as a backup for Yao, while Bobby Jackson provided veteran leadership.
This team could have gone further in the playoffs if only they managed to stay healthy.
1980-81 run with Moses
Hakeem Olajuwon is regarded as the best big in Rockets history, that people often forget that the late great Moses Malone had an incredible run with the team in the early ‘80s. Two of his three MVP plums came under the Rockets banner and he led the team to its first Finals appearance in 1981.
Unfortunately, Houston fell to Larry Bird and the Celtics in six games in the Finals. That Rockets squad included notable players like Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Mike Dunleavy Sr., among others.
1985-86 Twin Towers era
Before the David Robinson and Tim Duncan duo in San Antonio following that franchise’s insane NBA Draft run, Houston had the original “Twin Towers” in Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. The pair of nimble seven-footers took the NBA by storm with their length, athleticism, and defensive prowess.
The towering duo helped the Rockets eliminate the Kings and Nuggets in the first two rounds. They went on to upset defending champions Lakers in just five games in the WCF. Sampson drilled one of the most iconic game-winners in NBA history in Game 5, sending the Rockets to the Finals with a 20-foot jumper with one second left in regulation.
This was the Showtime Lakers’ only Western playoffs defeat during their dynasty. Houston put up a good fight in the Finals but was once again defeated by the Celtics in six games.
2017-18 team led by The Beard
Then Rockets GM Daryl Morey proved that sabermetrics works in basketball by assembling a trigger-happy unit around superstar James Harden. If there was any team that could have dethroned the Warriors at the height of their powers, it was the 2017-18 Rockets.
After clinching the best record in the West (65-17), Houston made quick work of the Timberwolves and the Jazz in the first and second rounds. They set-up a date with a back-to-back title-seeking Dubs team that had four All-Stars.
After going up 3-2 in their best-of-seven affair, Houston needed just one win to return to the promised land. Harden’s backcourt mate Chris Paul, however, missed Games 6 and 7 due to a hamstring injury. It also didn’t help that Houston missed 27 consecutive 3-point shots in Game 7.
Most pundits believe that had Paul been healthy, the Rockets would have certainly edged the Warriors.
Back to-back champs and birth of Clutch City
On paper, some may argue that the previous teams on the list were way more talented than the 1993-1995 Rockets ensemble. However, this underdog squad was the only one to get over the hump and win back-to-back titles for the city of Houston.
Olajuwon was hailed MVP in 93-94 and had an underrated supporting cast in Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, and Sam Cassell, among others. Once dubbed as “Choke City”, Houston proved doubters wrong and vanquished strong contenders Blazers, Suns, and the Jazz. They denied the Knicks a title by overcoming a 3-2 deficit to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy.
They were not expected to repeat the following year after a slow start to the season. Following the acquisition of Clyde Drexler, the Rockets managed to salvage a 6th seed place heading to the postseason. They once again had to go through a murder’s row of contenders in the Jazz, Suns, and Spurs before facing the Magic led by the scary duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.
Olajuwon was magnificent once more and they swept Orlando in four games. Houston became the lowest-seeded team to win a title. Head coach Rudy Tomjanovich’s quote, “Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” shortly after will forever be remembered in basketball folklore.