Rockets at 22, but are they ready for liftoff to title?

Mar 18, 2008 6:00 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |

Twenty-two and counting.

The amazing winning streak of the Houston Rockets reached that number this past Sunday with their 104-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Houston has the second- longest winning streak in NBA history and are two-thirds of the way to the longest streak (33), fashioned by a previous incarnation of the Lakers more than 30 years ago.

The streak is amazing in several contexts. Houston was hardly regarded as a title contender when the season began, though expected to challenge for a playoff berth. They have one truly great player in Tracy McGrady and an emerging star in center Yao Ming.

The rest of the roster is rather ordinary with perhaps the most notable supporting cast member being NBA journeyman Rafer Alston.

But before we get enthusiastic about Houston riding this winning streak to an NBA title, let’s consider that the Rockets are still no lock to even make the playoffs.

The race for the eight spots in the West remains extremely contentious with incredibly just 2½ games separating top-seeded Houston from seventh-seeded Dallas. Eighth seeded Golden State is just two games behind the Mavericks with ninth seeded Denver 1½ behind the Warriors.

In other words, Houston may just be a three-game losing streak away from having to battle just to make the playoffs.

Such is not the case in the East where it’s possible as many as five teams could be in the playoffs with losing records. Boston has already clinched the Atlantic Division title with more than a month remaining.

Some NCAA Tournament thoughts: The top four seeds have never all reached the Final Four, although three have made it on several occasions. Look for UCLA and Kansas to make it San Antonio, while North Carolina and Memphis get upset along the way.

My bracket has North Carolina being eliminated by Notre Dame before the Irish are vanquished by Louisville. Don’t be surprised if Stanford defeats Memphis in its regional final to advance to the Final Four where UCLA defeats the Cardinal for a fourth time this season. The Bruins then go on to defeat Louisville for the national title.

If this forecast comes to fruition, we could be treated to an outstanding Final Four game between Louisville and Kansas.

Here’s a look at three NBA games to be played this weekend:

Rockets at Warriors (Fri): Golden State took the first two meetings before Houston won the last time in late January, the game that began the winning streak. Whether the streak is alive or not, this is a good spot to go with the host. WARRIORS.

Celtics at Hornets (Sat): First meeting this season. Scheduling dynamics greatly favor the host as they catch the Celtics off of three games against the Texas teams. The Hornets also have had a couple of extra days to rest and to prepare. HORNETS.

Spurs at Mavs (Sun): The home team has won all three meetings, with Dallas covering twice. Spurs are playing their third game in four days. Dallas has the league’s second best home record (29-4) while the Spurs are just .500 on the road. MAVS.