With last night’s 101-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers combined with the San Antonio Spurs defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 98-93, the Houston Rockets have officially won the Southwest Division title.
This is just the sixth time the Rockets have won their division, which seems pretty incredible considering the rich history of basketball behind Rockets’ lore. But yes, it is true.
The last time the Rockets won their division was 2015, which was the second year of the James Harden/Dwight Howard partnership. That team went 56-26 and finished second overall in the Western Conference. They lost to the Golden State Warriors 4-1 in the conference finals.
Prior to that, the last time the Rockets won their division, Hakeem Olajuwon was still in his prime. They, of course, won it in the 1994 championship season, in which they finished 58-24 and grabbed the second seed in the west behind the Seattle Supersonics. And they also won it not in their second title run in 1995 that famously came out of the sixth seed, but in the 1993 season, the year before their first title.
The Rockets were 55-27 that season and were also the West’s second seed, this time behind the Phoenix Suns. The Rockets would lose in the conference semis to the Sonics in a seven-game slugfest that went to overtime in the series finale.
They also won the division in 1986, which was an NBA Finals trip for the Rockets as well. They were 51-31 that year and again the second seed. They had a memorable playoff run behind the original Twin Towers combo of Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, with Big Ralph hitting the famous twisting jumper to upset the top-seeded Showtime Lakers.
They would go on to lose to one of the Association’s great teams in history, falling in six games to the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton-led Boston Celtics. That Rockets team was thought of as the future of basketball until the squad infamously imploded in a haze of injuries and personal misfortune not long after.
The only other time the Rockets won their division was in 1977, which was so long ago that Houston was still playing in the Eastern Conference. That Rockets squad finished 49-33 and were again the second seed.
They were led by Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, and Rudy Tomjanovich, and they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals (feels so weird to even type that) where they were downed by Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
And that’s it. That’s the extent of the Houston division titles. Well, you can now add 2018 to that list, another highlight in what’s already been a historic year for the Rockets.
With 54 victories already under their belt, they’re on pace to have the most wins in franchise history. They only need five more to beat the old record of 58, set by the ‘94 team, and they have 14 more games in which to get it done. The franchise’s first-ever 60-win season appears to be a lock.
They’re also currently on pace to be the first-ever Rockets No. 1 seed. With a two-game led on Golden State, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Rockets essentially have a three-game lead on the Dubs with just those 14 games left. It’s not yet a total certainty, but it would take a collapse on the Rockets’ part down the stretch, even with some tough competition. The Warriors have to make up that ground without Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the next couple of weeks.
So while there’s no precedent for a Rockets top seed, the prior five Houston division champs all made it to at least the conference semis, with one NBA champion, another making the NBA Finals, and two others making the conference finals.
So stay tuned, Houston. With the accolades starting to pile up as the season draws to a close, there’s plenty more left to see as the Rockets hopefully use this regular season success as a springboard to a fruitful postseason run.