Few defending NBA champs have ever been considered less likely to repeat their win than the 1994-95 Houston Rockets. Ending the regular season with a mediocre 47-35 record, the team had lost the winning aura and league-wide respect it held the previous season, when it won the title. In the new season, they entered the Western Conference playoffs as the No. 6 seed and with no home-court advantage. But their will to win when it mattered was immense.
Led by the dominant Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, the team toughed out series wins against Utah, Phoenix and San Antonio (all squads with 57-plus wins that season). Clyde "The Glide" Drexler, an aging superstar acquired in a midseason trade, also played up to his rep. A supporting cast -- including point guards Sam Cassell and Kenny Smith and ultimate clutch shooter Robert Horry -- turned in inspired, gutsy performances. In the NBA Finals, the Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in four straight games, schooling the touted tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway — and shushing the doubters in the process. When it mattered, teamwork made a difference.