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The Dream and The Glide

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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.