In Houston, one of the nice byproducts of the Miami Heat's amazing winning streak (after a win over Orlando, 27 straight and counting) has been the brief poof of renewed relevance that it gave to the Rockets' amazing winning streak back in 2008.
Aside from the two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, the 22-game winning streak from late January 2008 into the middle of March was the greatest accomplishment in the history of this franchise, and only augmented over time when we've had a chance to really digest just how slightly-better-than-average that roster was.
I mean....Rafer Alston was the starting point guard. RAFER ALSTON. Yao Ming missed the last TEN games of the streak, and the team actually played better than they did the previous twelve.
It was a glorious time, to be sure.
Unfortunately for history's sake in Houston, a week or so ago the Heat were able to do something that Rockets team couldn't do -- they were able to trudge through a game against the Celtics to get to win number 23, leaving the Rockets' 22-game winning streak in the dust as the second-best in the history of the league. Now, like many of the Heat's games lately, they needed an other-worldly performance from LeBron James to do it, but a win is a win, and the Heat have been stacking them up.
In all likelihood, barring an intervention by the San Antonio Spurs on March 31, the Heat are going to blow past the 1971-72 Lakers record of 33 straight wins. Impressive, no doubt, and even more so when you consider that every opponent is now treating games with the Heat like Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
So we know the Heat are winning games, but how are they doing in the really, really important department -- COVERING THE SPREAD?
Well, it just so happens my man R.J. Bell, the founder of pregame.com and an awesome Twitter follow (@RJinVegas), is keeping track of just that. Here's the latest update from R.J.:
During 27-game win streak, #Heat covered 16 (losing 11) against the spread. $100 bet on each game would have won $390
— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) March 26, 2013
So it got me to thinking, 16-11 is all well and good, but how good were the 2008 Rockets against the number during their 22 game winning streak? So I headed to covers.com (or as I like to call it, "The Jedi Archives for Degenerates"), and did the legwork.
Here's what I found out: Below is a list containing all 22 games of the streak with the spread (from a Rockets perspective) and final score in the first set of parentheses, followed by a running record of their performance against the spread (ATS), and then a column (in another set of parentheses) indicating the record of their opponent at the time of the game:
1/29 -- vs GS (-2.5, 111-107), W 1-0 (GS 27-18) 2/1 -- at Indiana (-4, 106-103), L 1-1 (IND 19-27) 2/2 -- at Milwaukee (-7.5, 91-83), W 2-1 (MILW 18-29) 2/4 -- at Minnesota (-6, 92-86), T 2-1-1 (MINN 10-36) 2/7 -- vs Cleveland (-5.5, 92-77), W 3-1-1 (CLEV 27-20) 2/9 -- vs Atlanta (-9.5, 108-89), W 4-1-1 (ATL 22-25) 2/11 -- vs Portland (-8, 95-83), W 5-1-1 (PORT 28-22) 2/13 -- vs Sacramento (-9.5, 89-87), L 5-2-1 (SAC 23-27) 2/19 -- at Cleveland (-1, 93-85), W 6-2-1 (CLEV 29-23) 2/21 -- vs Miami (-11, 112-100), W 7-2-1 (MIA 9-43) 2/22 -- at New Orleans (+4, 100-80), W 8-2-1 (NOLA 37-15) 2/24 -- vs Chicago (-9.5, 110-97), W 9-2-1 (CHI 22-32) *2/26 -- vs Washington (-10.5, 94-69), W 10-2-1 (WASH 27-29) *2/29 -- vs Memphis (-13.5, 116-95), W 11-2-1 (MEM 14-43) *3/2 -- vs Denver (-5, 103-89), W 12-2-1 (DEN 35-23) *3/5 -- vs Indiana (-10, 117-99), W 13-2-1 (IND 24-36) *3/6 -- at Dallas (+1.5, 113-98), W 14-2-1 (DAL 39-22) *3/8 -- vs New Orleans (-5.5, 106-96), W 15-2-1 (NOLA 42-19) *3/10 -- vs NJN (-11, 91-73), W 16-2-1 (NJ 26-37) *3/12 -- at Atlanta (-5, 83-75), W 17-2-1 (ATL 26-37) *3/14 -- vs Charlotte (-10, 89-80), L 17-3-1 (CHAR 24-40) *3/16 -- vs LA Lakers (-3.5, 104-92), W 18-3-1 (LAL 45-20)
* indicates game Rockets played without Yao Ming
18-3-1 against the spread!! Let me say that again....18-3-1 AGAINST THE SPREAD!!!
Now THAT'S winning.
Here are the facts about the Rockets' 18-3-1 ATS streak:
1. As average as the personnel was on that team (outside of Yao and Tracy, it was a collection of journeymen, castoffs, and youngsters), they were still favored in all but two of the games during the streak, finishing 16-3-1 as a favorite. That was surprising to me, only because before the streak we are talking about a team that was 24-20, not a record of a team you'd expect as a nearly perennial favorite. Then, midway through the streak, they lost their best player, a juncture where you'd expect the spread to recalibrate downward a little bit. (Ironically, they played their best ball of the streak after Yao got hurt. More on this in a second.)
Certainly, part of the heavy skewing toward being a favorite nearly all the time had something to do with....
2. ....the record of their opponents. The teams they played during the streak were a combined 573-623 (a pedestrian .479 winning percentage) at the time they tipped off with the Rockets. In fact, that season there were 12 teams in the NBA that finished the season with 50 or more wins, and the Rockets only played four games during the streak against those teams, three of which were at home. (Amazingly, EIGHT of these teams were in the Western Conference. Say what you will about the depth of the West this season, but 2007-2008 was ridiculous. Golden State missed the playoffs at 48-34.)
3. Still, the caliber of opponent during the streak shouldn't detract from the dominance that the Rockets showed, not only in covering the spread, but how much they covered it by. During the streak, the average spread of the Rockets' games was 6.5 points, they covered those games by a total of 119.5 points, or 5.43 points per game. That means they exceeded expectations by over five points a night.
4. I don't know that the team is given enough credit for how well they played without Yao Ming during the streak. Consider the following: -- The record of their opponents during the final ten games of the streak (the "Sans Yao" portion of the run) was 302-306 at tip time (a .497 winning percentage). So the caliber of competition by that measurement improved during the last ten games of the streak.
-- The Rockets were a double-digit favorite six times during the 22 -game winning streak. FIVE of those instances occurred after Yao got hurt. (They went 4-1 ATS, missing a perfect 5-0 by one point in Win #21.) In fact, the average spread in those ten games was 7.25 points. So expectations for the team by Vegas actually increased even after Yao got hurt.
-- Post-Yao Injury, the Rockets covered in those ten games by a total of 67.5 points, or 6.75 points per game. So not only did the level of competition increase after Yao went down, not only did the average spread of the game increase after Yao went down, but the Rockets actually exceeded expectations by even more after Yao went down.
5. Above all else, the Rockets and their 18-3-1 record against the spread during the streak means that a gambler placing $100 on each game during the streak would have made a profit of $1,470.
$1,470 is WAY more than $390. Therefore, the Rockets' streak was more impressive than the Heat's streak.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.