clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Greatest Rockets team of all-time bracket: Round 1 - 1995 (2) vs. 1981 (7)

The battle at center is the headline attraction, but it’s the other guys who likely decide this matchup.

Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone sit courtside

How the 1995 team matches up

The second Houston Rockets title team didn’t hit their groove until the playoffs, famously finishing the regular season just 47-35, but when they finally did put it all together, they went on one hell of a playoff run. They might not be the best Rockets team of all-time going by record, but I don’t know if any team was better once these guys hit their apex.

The beat a veritable who’s who of big-time 1990’s NBA talent on their way to their second straight championship, taking down the 60-win Karl Malone-John Stockton Utah Jazz, followed by the 59-win Charles Barkley-Kevin Johnson Phoenix Suns, then an evisceration of league MVP David Robinson and the 62-win San Antonio Spurs, and then finally put the cherry on top of the sundae with a sweep of the 57-win Shaq and Penny Orlando Magic (who earlier defeated Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the east playoffs).

That’s probably the greatest postseason run in NBA history, and since we’re taking each team at the peak of their powers, these guys are going to be tough to beat.

Particularly because they can match the greatest strength of the 1981 team. The 1995 Rockets have Hakeem Olajuwon to put on Moses Malone in what would be a prime matchup of mentor versus student (take a minute to read that write-up on the two centers’ relationship; it’s worth it).

It would be one hell of a titanic battle between two Hall of Famers in their prime. Olajuwon averaged 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 3.4 blocks per game, while Moses also put up 27.8 points to go along with 14.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1 steal, and 1.9 blocks per contest.

So if these two cancel each other out, then we’re looking at the supporting cast. Clyde Drexler, Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Mario Elie, and Vernon Maxwell (who, in our little fantasy land here, never got suspended and would be coming off the bench behind Drex), and they even had a few extra defenders to throw at Malone if needed in Charles Jones and Chucky Brown.

These guys at their peak might’ve just been too much.

How the 1981 team matches up

This is another team that hit their prime in the playoffs. In fact, these guys were just 40-42 in the regular season before pulling off a huge upset in the first round of the playoffs against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. That 2-1 series win (first round was best-of-three those days) catapulted them all the way to the NBA Finals.

After the Lakers, they downed the George Gervin Spurs followed by the equally as unlikely Kansas City Kings in the Conference Finals. They eventually fell in six games to Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, Tiny Archibald, Cedric Maxwell, and the Boston Celtics.

Malone was fantastic all postseason, but this wasn’t a one-man show. Calvin Murphy, though past his prime, averaged 18.1 points per game in the playoffs. Robert Reid, Billy Paultz, and Mike Dunleavy also contributed heavily, and Reid gave the 1981 team a young, strong, athletic swingman to put on Drexler.

That’s the interesting thing about this fantasy game. The 1981 team seems to matchup in all the right places, so if anyone could pull off an upset in round 1, it might be these guys.


1995 - Coaching. This is an intriguing coaching matchup in that both guys were in their second full season as head coach with their respective squads, and they have similar career records in the regular season. Rudy Tomjanovich carries a 527-416 (.559) record, while Del Harris stands at 556-457 (.549). The difference is Rudy T has two titles to zero for Harris, and Rudy T was just such a perfect fit for those mid-90s Rockets teams, it’s hard to bet against him with all the marbles on the line and a prime Hakeem in his corner. As an aside, Rudy T was also on the 1981 squad as a player, and though he averaged over 11 points per game in the regular season, he only saw 31 total playoff minutes.

1981 - Murphy. If there’s one place the 1995 squad is vulnerable, it’s at point guard. Both Kenny Smith and Sam Cassell were fine players and perfect fits for this team, but neither are all-timers. Murphy is. He averaged 16.7 in the regular season and upped that by a point and half in the playoffs. Despite being on the downside of his career, he shot over 49 percent from the field in both the regular and postseasons. If the Dream-Moses battle is even and Reid can trouble Drexler on the wing, Murphy’s scoring prowess could be what springs the upset.


Who wins this matchup?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    2-Seed 1995
    (68 votes)
  • 6%
    7-Seed 1981
    (5 votes)
73 votes total Vote Now