In a season like this, please forgive Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman if he has forgotten what it feels like to go two months without losing a game.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat — winners of 21 consecutive games and counting — are getting to know that feeling.
Adelman knows it well, too.
His 2007-08 Houston Rockets remain alone — at least until the Heat play Toronto on Sunday — second on the NBA’s list of longest winning streak.
Winners of 22 consecutive games from late January to St. Patrick’s Day that season, Adelman’s Rockets are right up there in that rare air with Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain and that 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers that won 33 consecutive and with a guy once known as Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson on the 1970-71 Milwaukee team that won 20 in a row.
Adelman did it with Rafer Alston and Luther Head in his first season with Houston.
OK, so he had Tracy McGrady playing like a MVP for those 22 games and big Yao Ming healthy for half of that streak, too.
But still, Adelman had to fit the puzzle pieces — Shane Battier, rookies Carl Landry and Luis Scola, 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo — together on a team that lost Yao for the season midway through the streak and traded Bonzi Wells and Kirk Snyder away during it as well.
“It’s probably one of the top ones, when you really look back at it,” Adelman said, considering all of the memories and achievements in a coaching career that’s just seven victories shy of 1,000 NBA victories. “Things just fall together. I don’t know why that happened.”
He took the Portland Trail Blazers to two NBA Finals in the early 1990s and guided his Sacramento Kings in multiple memorable playoff series with the Kobe-Shaq Lakers teams in the early 2000s.
“I know all the experts say the playoffs, that’s the big thing,” Adelman said. “Well, it is the big thing. But you look at the regular season and that was an incredible run. I just think it was something when you look back on it, you talk with your coaches and you’re just trying to win a game. When you win 22, that’s pretty good and something you remember.
“So maybe we can get our guys to do the same thing here at the end of the year. I don’t know.”
That Rockets team started slowly, beating Golden State by four points, Indiana by six and Milwaukee by nine to begin a streak that included 14 double-digit victories before it finally ended 49 days after it began. Houston’s big scare was a two-point victory over Sacramento, won on Steve Novak’s three-pointer with two seconds left for their eighth consecutive victory.
They went into Cleveland and beat James and his mighty Cavaliers by eight points for victory No. 9, and they beat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers by 12 at home for No. 22 before Boston came to Houston and thumped them 94-74 to end it.
“That was done with a bunch of different guys,” said Rockets guard Aaron Brooks, a rookie on that team. “A lot of trades, a lot of guys in and out, a lot of guys getting hurt. It was just a testament to Rick’s system. I just remember everything clicking. We found a way to get it done. That was a scrappy team.”
The Celtics went on to win the NBA title in Kevin Garnett’s first season there with new teammates Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
The Rockets went from out of playoff contention and briefly took the Western Conference lead during those 22 games. Then they lost two consecutive games, three of their next four, five of the next eight and finished the regular season 11-7 before they lost in six games as the West’s fifth seed to Utah in the playoffs’ first round.
“The thing I remember most about that streak is we were dominating games,” Adelman said. “We just got on a roll and that team walked out on the floor and thought they could win. It was a great, memorable experience for everyone, especially for me.”
Five years later, Adelman’s Wolves team has lost 19 games in the past 49 days, the length of the Rockets’ unbeaten streak. Battier, meanwhile, has moved on to the Heat, which hasn’t lost since Feb. 1 against Indiana.
“I see Shane’s on another [streaking] team,” Adelman said. “Maybe it was Shane. I’m sure he’s going to take credit for it. That team [Miami], if they stay healthy, they’re favored to win every night. I don’t think we were favored to win every night.”
Adelman went on to coach three more seasons in Houston, and now two more with the Wolves.
“Someone said, is it five years?” Adelman asked. “Five years? It seems like 10. The last couple years have added on. It was a great experience. I remember the whole thing.”