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Between the two dynasties, the Lakers would be the more formidable opponent. They had a better coach, a more dominant big man and better complementary players.
The Lakers No. 2 option, Kobe Bryant, was superior to an elder Clyde Drexler past his prime, but it can be argued—albeit both ways—that the rest of the Houston Rockets’ supporting cast was superior to the Lakers, thus balancing the equation.
In the end, it comes down to the leader and centerpiece of each squad—Shaq and Hakeem.
Shaq was the undisputed leader during the Lakers’ three-peat from 2000-‘02. He absolutely dominated the competition on his way to three straight Finals MVPs.
It took the Lakers 23 games to capture the first title of their dynasty, which took place during the 2000 NBA playoffs. Shaq put up a jaw-dropping 30.7 points, 15.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.4 blocks.
During the Lakers’ defense of their title in the 2001 NBA playoffs, the Lakers were the most dominant team of the postseason—they won 15 out of 16 playoff games on their way to a second straight title behind Shaq’s 30.4 points, 15.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 blocks.
The following year, it took Shaq and company only 19 games before they were able to hoist their third consecutive Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads. O’Neal had, by his standards, his worst performance of the three title runs—he put up 28.5 points on 52.9 percent shooting, 12.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.5 blocks.
The Lakers dynasty was close to adding another piece of hardware to their trophy case, but an unfortunate set of circumstances prevented them from expanding their dynasty.
During their loss to the Spurs in the 2003 Playoffs, Kobe was playing with a severely injured shoulder and Rick Fox was out for the series.
Robert Horry, known to be one of the most clutch playoff performers, was ice cold against the Spurs. Not to mention, a potential game winning three-pointer by Horry at the buzzer in Game 5 went in and out of the basket.
Winning Game 5 would have swung the series in favor of the Lakers, and—while this is just conjecture—they would’ve been favored to advance on to face an inferior New Jersey Nets squad in the Finals—a series they would have undoubtedly won.
Shaq did all he could, averaging 29.3 points, 14.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.8 blocks. Nonetheless, it was not enough from Shaq, who played like a man on a mission.
Hakeem Olajuwon was similarly dominant in the Rockets’ championship years. During their first title run, the Dream put up 28.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.0 blocks in 23 games.
The following year, Hakeem managed to lead his squad to a second title in one less game—he stepped up his offensive game and scored 33.0 points, while collecting 10.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.8 blocks.
While Hakeem dominated the competition during that stretch, the Rockets' success did not match that of the Lakers' dynasty.
One caveat you can’t forget about was the void Michael Jordan left in the mid-90’s when he briefly retired from the NBA to pursue a career in baseball. Again, nothing but pure conjecture, but you can easily argue that Hakeem may have very well never won a single title had Jordan been present and focused on the game.