The “Just Short” Seasons
Slightly better than the “disappointing great” seasons are the “just short” seasons. The Houston Rockets have had a total of three seasons where they fell just short of the NBA finals. All three times they made it to the conference finals but then lost.
In 1976-77 the Rockets were in the Eastern Conference and finished with a 49-33 record. As the two seed the Rockets got a bye to the semifinals. There they took down Washington to advance to the conference finals against Philadelphia. The 76ers beat Houston in six games but then lost to Portland.
20 years later the Rockets had another “just short” season when they lost to Utah in the Western Conference finals. Houston had gone 57-25 that season which was third best in the Western Conference. The Rockets had knocked off Minnesota and Seattle to set up the series with Utah to decide who would face Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Utah beat the Rockets but lost to Jordan.
The most recent “just short” season came in 2014-15. That year the Rockets won their first division title in two decades with a 56-26 record. Houston sent Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers on summer vacation before losing to the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors in the conference finals.