Every NBA championship so far since 2011 has been won by either a team from Texas or a team led by LeBron James. The Mavericks kicked things off with a triumphant victory in 2011, while LeBron and the Miami Heat took the next two. Last year belonged to the San Antonio Spurs, and as the 2015 NBA Conference Finals begin, one Texas team and LeBron’s crew remain in the running.
Of course, this year the Spurs and the Mavericks both met their demise in the early rounds of the playoffs, and it’s Houston left carrying the torch for Texas. And after a grueling seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers that saw the Rockets fall behind 3–1, in three blowouts, before mounting a three-game comeback that saw the team win each game by double digits, it’s time to ask: Is this the Houston Rockets’ time?
Outside of Houston, not many people seem to think so. The betting odds on the team are wild, with the Rockets a six to one underdog to emerge from the series with the Warriors, and a shocking twelve to one underdog to win it all. That is an unusually poor set of odds to see at this point in the playoffs, and a sign of disrespect that the Rockets should be pinning up in the locker room.
Of course, the Warriors have been dominant lately, overpowering the Memphis Grizzlies by fifty points in the final three games of their series. And the Rockets’ surprising emergence in the Conference Finals was the result of some improbable comebacks—most notably, returning from a nineteen-point deficit at the end of the third quarter of a rough game six to win the game and, eventually, the series.
But all that really means is that Vegas has doubted the Rockets before, and they’ve managed to shock the world. It never hurts to be treated as an underdog—the “nobody believes in us” power is at least as potent as the “team of destiny” narrative to unite a locker room—and while it’s easy to craft narratives about how a team might have run out of miracles, that’s not really how it works. Rather, winning improbable victories spurs the belief that the team can triumph over any odds (even ones that Vegas sets at twelve to one), and that makes this Houston team one to be feared.
It’s been a long time since the Rockets were relevant this late in the season—MVP candidate James Harden was barely out of short pants the last time people were talking about “Clutch City”—and all of the things that tend to trip teams up at this point, the Rockets have already overcome. The Warriors are a tough team—and LeBron and the Cavaliers are likely to be waiting behind them if the Rockets can defeat them—but we’ve certainly learned better than to count the 2015 Rockets out.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)