The sports world loves Cinderella stories.
With March Madness season upon us, experts and average Joes alike are already predicting which underdog will surpass expectations this year. But right now one of the best Cinderella stories can be found in the NBA.
The Houston Rockets were under .500 less than two months ago. They were scrambling to secure a spot in the playoffs.
But after knocking off the Lakers Sunday afternoon, the Rockets have suddenly found themselves at the top of the Western Conference. That's right, atop the conference and under the expert guidance of Rick Adelman.
Adelman possesses a cool that Jeff Van Gundy, who looked perpetually to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, could only dream of.
Yet even with their record-breaking surge, believers in the Rockets' postseason future are hard to come by. Why is this?
Unfortunately, the Rockets are slighted because instead of having easily identifiable heroes with whom the masses can relate, the Rockets have a group of team players who fulfill their roles.
Take a look at the other top winning streaks in NBA history. The ’71-’72 Lakers had Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. Likewise, the ’71 Bucks had Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and the ’00 Lakers had Shaquille O’Neil and Kobe Bryant.
The ’08 Rockets have Tracy McGrady and…Rafer Alston? Luis Scola?
Yao Ming would have undoubtedly been the second half of the team's star duo a month ago, but he suffered a season-ending injury at the end of February.
All the same, the Rockets have continued their unprecedented 22-0 streak without him. In Yao's stead, other players stepped up and finally started to reach their potential.
The Rockets proved that a team does not need two stars to win. It needs just that, a team.
And as cheesy as it sounds, isn’t that the way the game is supposed to be played?
Shane Battier brings his physical toughness and scrappiness, taking charges and contributing in other intangible ways.
Carl Landry, a new addition to the roster, gives the court a jolt of energy.
Dikembe Mutumbo, a man who statistically should have retired a decade ago, is still blocking shots...and following them up with his infamous finger wag.
Rafer Alston is starting to mature in his role as point guard, though he could probably stand to do a little maturing off the court.
Granted, the calibers of the teams that the Rockets have challenged have not all been the very highest.
Most recently they've faced the Nowitzki-less Mavericks, the Gasol-less Lakers, and the otherwise hapless Bobcats.
But playing with great consistency and defeating many teams by double digits is definitely nothing to sneeze at.
Lately, the Rockets' have played a textbook defense. And though they may not always be the flashiest, most entertaining bunch to watch, the selflessness of the entire team—including T-Mac, whose passing skills have been highlighted now as much as ever—is certainly inspiring.
Still, the team does have room for improvement.
In fact, their Achilles heel may very well be a basic skill many high school JV players have already mastered—free throws. The Rockets must become consistent in this area if they are to be serious contenders in the playoffs.
Having gone through a decade of dry seasons, many Rockets fans were originally wary of thinking too much of the winning streak. After many last-quarter meltdowns, first round exits, and injuries plaguing the roster, fans didn’t want to get their hopes up again.
But that skeptical phase is over.
The NBA's Cinderella finally has believers.