The Houston Rockets have been in a tumble down the side of a mountain akin to Andy Samberg's epic summersault in Hot Rod over the last month and a half. Six weeks ago, breakout star Christian Wood sprained his ankle. To that point, Wood was averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per game, far and away the best player on the team. After he got hurt, the onus fell on John Wall, playing his first basketball in nearly two years after tearing his Achilles, and recently-acquired Victor Oladipo to win games.
They failed in that effort. Completely and utterly. Wall is a shell of the point guard who received a max contract in 2017 and Oladipo is either a significantly worse player after a quad injury robbed him of a year or supremely uninterested in playing for Houston. Both possibilities are equally likely, and it could be a combination of the two. Regardless, the two have been awful for the Rockets and it resulted in 17 straight losses without Wood.
Seventeen! That is a hard number to process. Statistical probability suggests that there would be at least one night in that six-week span where the Rockets are feeling it and their opponents are not and Houston wins. The Process-era Sixers were born to lose and still managed to stumble into a win here and there. Houston is trying to compete after James Harden forced his way out and still lost 17 games in a row.
Wood came back last night against the shorthanded Warriors, down James Wiseman and Eric Paschal due to health and safety protocols. They couldn't rely on Wood to march right on the court after six weeks and drag the team to a win, but surely his minutes would be the difference, right? Wrong! Wood did collect 21 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes, an impressive post-injury debut, but the Rockets still lost by double-digits, 108-94.
That puts Houston at 18 straight losses, an unconscionable number for a team that is not actively tanking. More importantly, it brings the Rockets' magic number down to nine. Nine more losses and they will set the single-season record for most consecutive losses. Currently, that record is shared by the 2013-14 Sixers and the 2010-11 Cavaliers, who lost 26 games in a row in each of their respective seasons.
The all-time record is 28 consecutive losses, set by the Sixers, who lost the last 10 games of the 2014-15 season and the first 18 games of the 2015-16 season. I don't think that should count, though. Those are two entirely separate teams, especially during that particular period of Sixers basketball. Coincidentally, Wood was a member of that 2015-16 Sixers squad, so be ready to hear that factoid on broadcasts if the Rockets keep losing.
Frankly, it is in Houston's best interest to keep losing, as ignominious as the record they're chasing might be. Even after losing 18 straight, they're still three games in front of the Timberwolves for the worst record in the West. Houston only keeps their first-round pick this year if it falls in the top four. Given Oladipo has no intention of re-signing with the team and Wall struggles to reach an average level of play most nights, tanking to keep that pick would be ideal. The Rockets could still get screwed even if they finish with the worst record in the NBA -- lottery odds dictate that even the worst record has a chance of falling to the fifth pick -- but it's far more likely they end up in the top-three and therefore keep their selection with a chance to land a star.
It isn't exactly a mark of honor to hold the single-season record for the most losses in a row, but it seems the Rockets are both bad and unlucky enough to make it happen. Conversely, most would consider the team lucky if they managed to keep their 2021 first-round pick. Strange times in Houston. Nine games is more than it seems. All it takes is one cold night from the opponent and one hot night from the Rockets to end all talk of such record-chasing. But if that didn't happen in the first 18 games, it very well might not happen in the next nine.
The Lakers and Jazz can battle for the top seed in the West. This right here is the race worth watching.