Rockets Reach Dubious Milestone with 20th Straight Loss

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta had no idea what he was getting himself into. Photo by Jeff Balke
The Houston Rockets have become the first ever franchise to... In a lot of cities, replace "Houston Rockets" with any other team and that sentence is often followed by joyous, fist-pumping happiness. It could be eye-popping statistics or some milestone achievement. Or, if you live in Houston, it could be just another painful indignity to throw on the ever-growing pile of local sports failures.

Put this one in that latter category.

The Houston Rockets on Sunday became the first ever franchise to have both a 20-game winning streak and a 20-game losing streak in its history. Unfortunately, the winning streak happened back in 2008 when they won 22 in a row with players like Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. This latest streak goes the other direction after losing to a depleted Oklahoma City Thunder team at the Toyota Center 114-112.

It has been a demoralizing and thoroughly depressing run that has included a host of injuries to key players and an increasing number of players brought up from the G League and acquired in trades. There have been bright points, like the emergence of Kevin Porter, Jr., but it has mostly been a string of poor play, inconsistency, inexperience and frustration for Rockets and their fans.

The downward spiral is remarkable considering they have been one of the NBA's best teams over the last decade-plus. In fact, you would have to go back to the 2005-06 season to find the last time this franchise had a losing record in the regular season. That was the year before Daryl Morey became Carroll Dawson's GM understudy.

This year will almost certainly be worse. The Rockets have only 11 wins two-thirds of the way through a 70-game, COVID-shortened season. With 30 games remaining, would it shock anyone if the Rockets won fewer than 10? Given how bad they have been of late, despite being healthier than most of the streak, it would not be a surprise to see them flirt with the all-time record of 28 losses in a row.

The next two games are at home against the mediocre Raptors and Hornets, Toronto on a back-to-back with at least a couple of Rockets regulars sitting for rest. If they lose those two, they face the ultimate test, a pair of back-to-back games in Minnesota against the team currently holding the worst record in the NBA.

Given that the trade deadline is the day prior to that two-game road trip, this could be a VERY different looking Rockets team facing the Timberwolves. Whether that is better or worse it to be determined, but nothing should be ruled out at this point.

Fans probably shouldn't care about wins and losses at this point. What the team does with its roster is a far more important storyline to follow right now. And that doesn't necessarily mean a high draft pick.

Even if the Rockets finished with the worst record in the league, they must land one of the top four spots in the draft to hang onto that pick. Were they to wind up fifth (the lowest possible spot in the draft if they had the league's worst record), they would have to choose between the lesser of first round picks between Oklahoma City and Miami. That would undoubtedly be the Heat's choice — they are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, nothing is settled until after the trade deadline. The Rockets could have several picks in the first round next year and perhaps even some cap space to work with. GM Rafael Stone hasn't been shy about making moves or stockpiling picks, many believe for the chance to add to other deals in trade.

Right now, these are the things we most think about during basketball season because, instead of crossing successful milestones, the Rockets are mired in failure. And it will likely get worse.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke