This day in Rockets history: John Lucas dishes out 20 assists

Houston Rockets John Lucas (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets John Lucas (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

As today is April 8th, let’s reflect on the time John Lucas etched himself in Houston Rockets history by dishing out 20 assists.

During the 1977-78 season, the Houston Rockets had a season to forget, as they went 28-54, which is tied for the fourth-fewest win total in the Rockets’ 53-year history of the franchise.

The Rockets actually responded much differently than a team in the modern-day era would, as they didn’t make any front office changes following that season. Rockets coach Tom Nissalke remained in place as the head coach, and led the team to a 47-35 record during the following season, as he pioneered the rebuild.

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Interestingly enough, the 1978-79 season ended up being his last at the helm, as the Rockets replaced him with Del Harris after the following season. But during the 1977-78 season, John Lucas had a performance to remember on April 8th, as he accomplished the rare 20-assist milestone.

Lucas still holds the Rockets’ single-game franchise record for assists, as the Rockets have yet to have a player duplicate his assist totals in a single-game. Lucas only made one basket, as he went 1-for-9 during the Rockets’ game against the Indiana Pacers on that day, but the Rockets ultimately won 112-111.

Lucas’ performance came on the last day of the Rockets’ season, and the Pacers team they faced wasn’t much better than them, as Indiana had a 31-51 record heading into the final game. The Rockets got major contributions from future Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy, who had a game-high 31 points, while shooting 57.7 percent from the field.

Lucas averaged 9.4 assists per game that season, which was second behind only Kevin Porter. But Lucas’s 20 assists wasn’t even a career-high, as he later upped it to 24 assists during the 1983-84 season, which was his last season with the San Antonio Spurs before re-uniting with the Rockets for two more years. Lucas would leave the Rockets again to join the Milwaukee Bucks and the Seattle Supersonics, but would ultimately wrap up his playing career in the Space City, where it all started. Lucas is now coaching with the Rockets, which isn’t surprising considering the affinity the Rockets had for him as a player, and the love he had for the organization.

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John Lucas holds Houston Rockets averages of 11.6 points and 7.3 assists per game, and ranks ninth in total assists and third in assists per game, behind only Chris Paul and James Harden. But on April 8th of the 1977-78 season, he etched himself in the record books with a 20-assist performance we’ll never forget.