Houston Rockets Break New Ground With Unprecedented Turnaround From 15-Game Skid

Never let it be said the Houston Rockets don’t have this streaking this down pat. After the Rockets beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118–108 on Dec. 5, they entered the history books in a way never seen in the major North American team sports. Houston ran its winning streak to six games. That’s impressive by itself. That those six straight victories came immediately after the Rockets lost 15 games in a row? That’s just bananas.

A couple of weeks ago, comparisons matched coach Stephen Silas’ Houston team and the Charlotte Bobcats led by his father, Paul Silas, in 2011–12. That team set the NBA record for the lowest winning percentage in a season at .106 (7–59). Now the Rockets might be eyeing the 1971–72 Los Angeles Lakers with their winning ways.

The Houston Rockets broke the losing streak in an unlikely fashion

After an 18-point road loss to the Boston Celtics on Nov. 22, the Houston Rockets fell to 1–16 with 15 consecutive defeats.

The good news what that the Rockets were returning home, where they were 1–4. The schedule makers didn’t do any favors with 12 road contests in their first 17 games. But the bad news was they were returning home to face the Chicago Bulls, among the top teams in the Eastern Conference, followed by the improved Charlotte Hornets.

At halftime, the Rockets trailed Chicago but ripped the Bulls with a 35–18 third-quarter flurry. Houston’s lead shrank to one with 3:32 remaining, but the Rockets answered with a 14–7 burst to put the game away. The losing streak was over.

No one was expecting a winning streak, though.

On Nov. 27 against the Hornets, Houston squandered a 17-point fourth-quarter lead. Charlotte tied the game three times in the final 2:28, including on P.J. Washington’s putback dunk with 4.4 seconds to go that forced overtime. The Rockets won a wild 146-143 overtime decision and, just like that, had a two-game winning streak.

They’ve followed that by sweeping a home-and-home from the Oklahoma City Thunder before returning to Houston to beat the Orlando Magic and the Pelicans.

Winning 6 straight after 15 losses in a row had never happened

The Houston Rockets are having fun, winning six consecutive games immediately on the heels of a 15-game losing streak.
The Houston Rockets are having fun, winning six consecutive games immediately on the heels of a 15-game losing streak. | Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

According to a tweet from ESPN Stats & Info, the Houston Rockets rewrote major sports history with their victory over the Pelicans. Houston became the first team in the NBA, National Football League, Major League Baseball, or National Hockey League to follow up a streak of at least 15 losses with six consecutive victories.

It sets up a duality with the Rockets that stretches logic. But both these statements are factual:

  • At 7–16, Houston is 13th in the 15-team Western Conference
  • The Rockets have the longest active winning streak in the NBA at six games

Take a moment to let your minds wrap around those delightfully opposed yet simultaneous truths.

After its loss in Boston, Houston had the NBA’s worst record at 1–16. Over just six games, the Rockets now clearly see the Pelicans, Thunder, Magic, and Detroit Pistons in the rearview mirror.

On the one hand, maybe this much winning isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team looking to boost its position in the NBA Draft Lottery. On the other hand, a team won six in a row after losing 15 straight! How in the world does that even make sense?

What changed for the Houston Rockets?

It’s worth a dive into the numbers to see what the Houston Rockets have done differently over the last six games.

After beating New Orleans, the Rockets are 27th in the NBA in net rating. They’ve been outscored by 6.4 points per 100 possessions this season. But since the start of the streak, Houston is ninth in the NBA with a net rating of plus-6.5.

The Rockets have hit 40.8% from 3-point range during their run, sixth-best in the NBA over that span. Before the streak, Houston was 28th in the league, shooting 30.9% from deep. It’s the modern NBA; make 3s, win games is a solid formula.

What makes the winning streak more curious is that No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green has been absent for all but 11 minutes of it. He’s nursing a hamstring injury and hasn’t played since early in the victory over the Bulls. The Rockets were also without point guard Kevin Porter Jr. against the Pelicans.

Christian Wood has heated up. The Houston center is shooting 52.4% overall and is 14-of-25 from 3-point range (56.0%) over the winning streak. Before that, Wood hit only 44.4% overall and was at a frigid 30.9% from deep. The most significant surge has come from Garrison Mathews, starting in place of Green. In his five starts, he’s put up 16.4 points per game on 54.0% shooting and is sizzling from the great beyond, hitting 48.8%.

Are the Houston Rockets a playoff team? That’s extremely unlikely. Is undrafted Mathews going to send Green to the bench? Also, extremely unlikely. But they’re competing and tasting some success after almost a month of misery. There’s value in that for the young Houston Rockets.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

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