The Houston Rockets have joined some exclusive company as they’ve pushed their winning streak to 19 games, yet Tracy McGrady insists it has no real significance if it’s not followed by an extended postseason run.
If history is any indication, the Rockets should be headed for one.
Houston (43-20) looks to become just the third team to win 20 consecutive games when it visits the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
The three other teams in NBA history that won at least 19 in a row - the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks and the 1999-2000 Lakers - all went on to win the championship that season.
On Monday, the Rockets tied that most recent Lakers team with their 19th victory in a row, knocking off New Jersey 91-73 at home. They’ll match the ’70-’71 Bucks, a team that featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, if they can beat the Hawks (26-37).
“It’s impressive, and we keep adding on games,” said guard Rafer Alston, who’s averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 assists during the streak. “It’s fantastic to have your name mentioned and your team mentioned with some of the best teams, some of the best players to ever play the game. It says a lot about our ballclub.”
Houston has won its last 10 games by double digits, and on Wednesday can establish a record for consecutive wins by 10 points or more.
Outside the playoff picture just a month ago, the Rockets now find themselves trailing only the Lakers and San Antonio in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference.
“I told them (Monday) they have a double whammy going,” coach Rick Adelman said. “Not only do you have a chance to do something remarkable and get this streak going and keep it going, but also, every time you win, you keep shortening the season and you keep that lead that you have over other people and you’re moving up the standings.”
McGrady - who has said the streak “really doesn’t mean anything” - has been at his best since Yao Ming went down with a season-ending foot injury Feb. 26. He’s averaged 24.9 points in seven games since Houston lost its star center.
The Rockets, though, have been winning primarily with defense. They’re allowing 89.3 points per game during the streak and haven’t given up more than 100 in the last 17 games.
“Defense wins ball games and that’s what we’re great at,” McGrady said.
Houston can make Atlanta the fourth repeat victim during its run, having beaten the Hawks 108-89 on Feb. 9 in a game it led by 33 after three quarters. That was the Rockets’ sixth consecutive win.
After the loss, Hawks coach Mike Woodson said his team “should’ve stayed at the hotel.”
Woodson was unhappy again after watching his team’s latest effort, a 123-112 defeat at Orlando on Monday. Atlanta trailed 74-53 at halftime.
“If you can’t stop anybody at any point in the game, you’re not going to win,” Woodson said. “We’ve got to regroup and get back to defending the ball because teams that do that, win.”
The Hawks allow 99.1 points per game, but have yielded 115.2 in losing four of their last five.
Atlanta is led offensively by Joe Johnson, who’s coming off an outstanding five-game stretch in which he averaged 29.6 points and 7.2 assists. Johnson, though, was held to eight points - tied for his lowest total in his last 46 games - in the Feb. 9 meeting with Houston.
The Rockets have lost three straight and 12 of their last 15 trips to Atlanta.