Jerry West isn’t walking through that door. Hakeem Olajuwon might, but only as an interested observer.
The Houston Rockets (vs. the Portland Trail Blazers) and Chicago Bulls (vs. the Washington Wizards) have stumbled their way into very uncomfortable playoff positions. They’ve dropped their first two playoff games, both at home, and now face long odds despite entering their series as prohibitive favorites.
How long? Only three teams in NBA history have dropped the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home and gone on to win the series:
1969 Los Angeles Lakers
This team lost to the Boston Celtics in the Finals in Bill Russell’s final season but only got there after beating the San Francisco Warriors in six games in the first round. They reeled off four wins in a row after dropping two home games, mostly on the strength of, well, having West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.
1994 Houston Rockets
Olajuwon’s first championship almost never came, as the No. 1 seed Rockets fell behind 2-0 to Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns in the second round. But the Rockets reeled off three consecutive wins, the first two in Phoenix, to retake the advantage. They dropped Game 6 in Phoenix, but Olajuwon put up a magical 37-point, 15-rebound, five-assist, three-block showing in Game 7 to keep the dream alive. (Get it, “The Dream”?)
2005 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks were a year away from their first Finals run, but they still managed to regain control after Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming’s Rockets dropped them twice on their home court. Dirk Nowitzki and company responded with three wins, two in Houston. They dropped game 6 but closed the series with a resounding 116-76 Game 7 victory.
2014 Houston Rockets?
What Houston has on its side is the presence of arguably the two best players in the series, Dwight Howard and James Harden. The Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge has outplayed both so far, though, and Harden in particularly has struggled heavily, shooting 29.8% from the field. If they want to close this out, they’ll have to do so with at least two wins in Portland, one of the toughest places in the NBA to play. So we don’t like their odds.
2014 Chicago Bulls?
Though almost everyone was picking the Bulls before this series began, the Wizards have shown why many called them the third most talented team in the Eastern Conference this season. If Chicago can’t find some scoring beyond point guard D.J. Augustin, this series could be over quickly. But Tom Thibodeau is the kind of coach you can’t count out.