How the 2009 team matches up
It is going to be a tall task going up against the 1986 Rockets, but the 2009 squad is no joke. The biggest challenge when facing off against the ‘86 team is how do you slow down the pairing of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson? The two put together one of the best frontcourt pairings in league history, and if not for injuries, this duo could have brought multiple titles to Houston.
To be honest, the ‘86 team has a significant size advantage down on the low post. Outside of Yao Ming, the ‘09 squad would not be able to match the size of the Twin Towers, given a lineup that involves Chuck Hayes and Luis Scola. Of course, the Dream and Mr. Grouch would win this battle, but Hayes and Scola would hold their own in the same way they competed against LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum during the 2009 playoffs.
However, once the game moves out to the perimeter, the upper hand goes to the ‘09 Rockets which features Tracy Mcgrady — one of the most prolific scorers in history.
McGrady was hurt for a large chunk of the 2009 season, but for this exercise, we’re assuming each team is at the peak of their powers, meaning McGrady’s on the court.
T-Mac would be a defensive nightmare for the ‘86 squad. Similar to defenders during the early to mid-2000s, Robert Reid would not be able to slowdown McGrady given his talents to score both inside and out. His ability to attack the basket could also open up Olajuwon and Sampson to foul trouble — which would even out the ‘09 Rockets’ hopes of matching the size of the ‘86 team. - CD
How the 1986 team matches up
This is the Rockets team most likely to fight you. Not the most likely to get in a fight with you. The most likely to outright fight you.
Forward Robert Reid famously said:
“Coach Fitch made it very, very clear that even though there were rules against guys leaving the bench, if you didn’t leave the bench, there wouldn’t be a bench for you to come back to.”
This Rockets team went to the franchise’s second NBA Finals by stunning the defending champion Showtime Lakers in just five games. The victory was capped with Ralph Sampson’s series-ending circus shot that silenced the L.A. Forum. Storied basketball scribe Jack McCallum published an article after Game 1 of the series with the headline “No Shot For The Rockets.” That didn’t age well.
What you may not know about the Ralph Sampson world beater: All-Star Hakeem “Akeem” Olajuwon watched the shot from the locker room after igniting a Western Conference Finals brawl by throwing punches at now Charlotte General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
That’s the type of Rockets team this was. Master of finesse and modern day tutor Hakeem Olajuwon was then young, hungry, and throwing punches on his way to the NBA Finals.
And Olajuwon wasn’t alone. This team was a thirst trap for modern general managers of swingmen with size, length, and physical defense. In the arm-barring, head-locking NBA of the ‘80s, the Rockets’ shortest playoff starter was 6-6 Lewis Lloyd. Before cocaine use ended his career, Lloyd posted 6.3 win shares this season (matched by Rodney McCray). By comparison that’s more than All-Stars Khris Middleton and Klay Thompson last season.
Flanking the Olajuwon-Sampson Twin Towers, you had instant grit in McCray and Robert Reid. McCray would make two All-Defense Teams and Hall-of-Famer James Worthy would say, “Next to [Dennis] Rodman, McCray was probably the toughest guy I went up against.”
McCray’s the most likely to defend Tracy McGrady, not Robert Reid, but Reid’s far from a pushover even if he does find himself guarding T-Mac.
Want to know what an absolute hardass Reid was without watching a second of his play? In 1982, HE RETIRED AT 27 out of frustration after the Rockets traded MVP Moses Malone. This would be like Jrue Holiday retiring because the Pelicans traded Anthony Davis. Dude straight up didn’t care about a paycheck. But he returned to the Rockets after Sampson joined the team. - MC
2009 - Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) could be the difference-maker in this match. Yao’s struggles trying to score against the Towers will allow Artest to step up as the Rockets’ secondary scorer behind McGrady. In addition to his offense, Artest’s strength will also be beneficial in helping the team defend the size and power of the ‘86 team. - CD
1986 - On the bench you had Mitchell Wiggins (father of Andrew), voice of the Timberwolves Jim Peterson, a pre-Jordan shot Craig Ehlo... and then there’s John Lucas.
You probably know John Lucas as the Rockets assistant coach who helps young NBA players get on the straight and narrow when they face difficulties with drugs and alcohol. Well, in 1985, those same demons forced him off the Rockets after 65 games. In the regular season, he went for 15.5 ppg and 8.8 apg while feeding the Twin Towers. This team was so stout, when they lost that production, they simply moved forward McCray to point guard and still went to the NBA Finals. Makes you wonder what was possible in the playoffs with Lucas. As we mentioned, we’re taking both teams at their best, so Lucas is eligible for this fantasy game.
Need to know more? Smash READ on this amazing oral history of the 1980s Houston Rockets from Grantland ”The Greatest Team That Never Was”. - MC
Who wins this matchup?
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