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The Houston Rockets top five rivals
There's not much going now that the season has been over for a month and a half other than the Houston Rockets head coaching search, which appears to be wrapping up. Just for kicks, the question posed is who is the Houston Rockets' biggest rivals?
Many Rockets fans consider the Dallas Mavericks a rival and fear the type of bragging rights Dallas-Forth Worth sports fans would gain if the Mavs won an NBA championship. Also, due to the proximity and the overlap of fan bases, it's clear from a local perspective that the Mavericks are not very well liked. But do Mavericks fans feel the same way or is there an indifference to it other than an itch (slight or not) of lacking something the Rockets franchise has? And does that make it a rivalry?
Find out the answer to this and more as the Rockets' top rivals are counted down.
Seattle SuperSonics (Honorable Mention)
The Sonics would be a tough call for the number one or two slot on this list but since they are no longer in the city they called home for over 40 seasons and took the name Oklahoma City Thunder, severing ties to the old city other than the records, it would not be appropriate to place Seattle on this list.
But other than the number one team on this list, no team got under Houston fans skin the way the Sonics did, constantly standing in the way of glory for the Rockets and even ending the best era in franchise history by sweeping the Rockets out of the playoffs. The Rockets finally got over the hump and defeated them in their 1997 second round best-of-7 series by the count of 4-3 but the franchises haven't played since and now any new activity between them will have to start the rivalry anew because there's not the same connection.
5. Phoenix Suns
Some die-hard Rockets fans may find this one an odd selection but bear in mind, while Rockets fans treasure the amazing comebacks over the Suns during the championship years, Suns fans rue and lament that those series happened and dream of what could have been had they not blown back-to-back leads that are historically very safe.
A problem is that those are the only two series that the franchises have ever played and not much more developed out of it, other than that Charles Barkley was traded to Houston in the seasons afterward.
Just like the Mavericks feud, all it would take is one good playoff series to spark this rivalry given the geographic proximity, San Antonio being the closest NBA city to Houston. The problem is, like every team on the list except the Jazz and Lakers, is that the Rockets and Spurs never cross paths. There was the legendary 1995 Western Conference Finals where some would say reigning MVP Hakeem Olajuwon "schooled" David Robinson after seeing the trophy handed to the Admiral just before the series started but the teams haven't met since.
The Spurs have bragging rights (except for the head to head battles) and the tough losses that denied probable trips to the NBA Finals in 1981 and 1995 are long in the rear view mirror for Spurs fans.
3. Dallas Mavericks
If only the Rockets hadn't succumbed to injuries over the years. Had they not, they certainly could have built off the momentum created from the 2005 NBA Playoffs first round bout between these two teams. It had everything: choking at home by both teams, improbable series comebacks, close games, embarrassing blowouts, whining about the officiating and people taking shots in the media, clutch shooting, memorable dunks, controversy, a high level of play for the most part…everything.
Unfortunately, as alluded to, the Rockets injury troubles in later seasons derailed their ability to field good teams and potentially set up more great series between the franchises, the 2005 one being the last one to date. But given the proximity of the teams and fan bases and general disdain plenty of Houston fans have for anything Dallas, all this potentially hot feud needs is a small wake up call to explode.
The Lakers are so successful that it is really hard for anyone to develop a long standing rivalry with them, although this has been successfully done by the San Antonio Spurs and (obviously) the Boston Celtics.
Still, the Los Angeles and Houston have an interesting history versus one another and the Rockets have generally played spoiler to the Lakers over the years. They denied two potential Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals and provided the only pre-NBA Finals defeats to the Lakers with shocking upsets by Cinderella teams in 1981 and 1986. Additionally, the Rockets spoiled the brief comeback of Magic Johnson, with the two-time defending champions defeating them 3-1 in 1996 first round.
The Lakers eliminated the Rockets in the last three playoff series between the franchises but not only was there a tough physical second round series brewing in 2009 before Yao Ming's(notes) injury in Game 3 but the Rockets rallied together and forced a Game 7 despite being severely undermanned down 2-1.
It's not one of the best rivalries in NBA history but a great shared history none the less.
1. Utah Jazz
They may not be local but this is a fact that won't disappear anytime soon, one that spans two generations of fans. The Rockets denied Utah some golden opportunities to win a title during both of its own championship years before the Jazz struck back and beat the Rockets, only to be denied by Michael Jordan's Bulls in the late 1990's. After dying down some, the rivalry picked up again when the teams squared off in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2007, where Utah left Houston devastated by winning on its home court. They also won the next year in the first round while the Rockets were without Yao Ming.
Whether it be John Stockton, Karl Malone, Deron Williams(notes) or Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler from the other perspective, the Rockets and Jazz has been one of the NBA's best feuds for over a decade and a half.
Rockets Coaching Search Ends as McHale Chosen (Breaking News)
The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Houston Rockets and Kevin McHale agreed to terms on a deal and that he will become the franchise's twelfth coach. Reportedly, it will be a three year deal with a team option for the fourth. He will be chosen over Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank and Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey.
This news broke later than my deadline would allow to draft a full response and I'll have one next week. However, the move does little to get the fans excited and there's nothing to suggest McHale will be a great coach given his limited profile. However Daryl Morey, who has made solid/excellent moves left and right since taking over as general manager, must see something in him that warrants him getting a try, so this will be a wait and see revelation. Will it pay off? Only time will tell.
Sean Mitchell is a writer based in the Houston area. He has followed Houston sports, the Rockets and the NBA since elementary school.
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