With each goal met, the Houston Rockets nudge the bar of achievement a wee bit out of their grasp, seemingly doing whatever is necessary to maintain their focus on the greater prize.
On Saturday night, following their 114-91 home victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Rockets participated in this exercise yet again, essentially downplaying their latest accomplishment of setting a franchise record for single-season wins with their 59th this season.
"I just told them; they didn't care," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said of sharing the news with his team. "I'm kind of happy. It was nice that they absolutely did not care. It is what it is.
"They'll care 10 years from now; they might not care tonight. For teams to win 59, 60, anything like that is not easy. And these guys have done it and they've done it all year consistently. It's a good milestone."
Houston (59-14) will host the Atlanta Hawks (21-52) at Toyota Center on Sunday pursuing a 60th win. It will likely do so with a slightly short-handed roster, with Chris Paul (hamstring), Luc Mbah a Moute (knee), and Ryan Anderson (rest) watching from the sideline. Reserve center Nene, absent from the rotation in each of the past five games, will return as part of the bench.
With nine games remaining and a four-game lead (plus the tiebreaker) over the Golden State Warriors in the chase for the top seed in the Western Conference, the Rockets have moved into position to start easing off the throttle as the postseason approaches. And, after pursuing the No. 1 seed with vigor over the past few weeks, the Rockets have already moved off that goal.
"The edge is already going to be there no matter what," said Rockets guard James Harden, who scored 27 points against the Pelicans and surpassed the 2,000-point plateau for the season, the fourth consecutive time he has done so.
"We don't have time to relax. The No. 1 seed is cool and all, but we have bigger things to worry about."
Houston extended its winning streak to eight games and has won 15 games in succession at Toyota Center, the second-longest streak in franchise history. If the Rockets win their final six home games they will match the franchise mark of 21 consecutive home wins.
The Hawks have dropped eight of nine games. Their stop in Houston is the penultimate game of their six-game road trip, with the last five of those contests coming against Western foes.
Mired in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks appear desirous of maintaining that position. Although they welcomed back guard Dennis Schroder and rookie forward John Collins from injury Friday night in Oakland, the Hawks remained compromised by several injuries.
Atlanta signed guard Damion Lee to a second 10-day contract before he made his third start of the season against the Warriors, and their rotation is a hodgepodge of young players striving against an organizational goal of maintaining one of the worst records in the league in order to achieve a plum slot in the upcoming draft, one teeming with talented frontcourt prospects.