HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Miami Heat may match or surpass the 1971-72 Lakers’ streak of 33 straight wins. But they will never win eight games in the span of 10 days.
Amazingly, that’s how those Lakers began their streak. It started with a back-to-back-to-back set. After a day off (in which they traveled 1,800 miles), they played a back-to-back in Chicago and Philadelphia. And after another day off (in which they traveled 2,500 miles back to L.A.), they played another back-to-back-to-back set.
The schedule got a little easier after that, both in terms of rest and schedule strength. Five of those first eight opponents eventually finished with at least 47 wins.
The Western Conference was as strong then as it is now. Six of the nine teams in the West finished with a winning record. The 49-33 Suns and 47-35 Sonics each missed the postseason. In the East, meanwhile, the 36-46 Hawks got the fourth and final playoff spot.
But the cumulative winning percentage (at the end of the season) of the teams the Lakers beat on their 33-game streak was just .477, not much stronger than the cumulative winning percentage (.472) of the teams the Heat have beaten over the last 24 games.
Boxscore data from the ’71-72 season is limited, so we can’t really determine pace and efficiency for the Lakers’ streak. We can guess that the pace was pretty quick, though, because scoring was so high. In fact, the Lakers’ 33 opponents scored more points per game (107.3) than the Heat have scored themselves during their streak (105.1).
And the Lakers won those 33 games by an average of 16.0 points. So while, their schedule strength wasn’t much tougher than what the Heat are going through, they were much more dominant.
Including Wednesday’s thriller in Cleveland, nine of the Heat’s 24 straight wins have come by six points or less, or in overtime. Only two of the Lakers’ 33 were by six points or less, and a third came in OT. More than half of their wins (17 of the 33) came by 15 points or more. So, in that sense, the Heat’s streak appears to be a little more lucky than what the Lakers did 41 years ago.
L.A.’s streak came to an end with a visit to Milwaukee on Sunday, Jan. 9, 1972, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar outscored Wilt Chamberlain, 39-15. The Bucks were the second best team in the league that year. The Lakers beat them in L.A. for their 11th straight win in November and eventually beat them 4-2 in the Western Conference finals, on their way to the franchise’s first championship since its 1960 move to Los Angeles (sixth overall).
Here’s a more detailed comparison of the two longest winning streaks in NBA history…
|1971-72 Lakers||2012-13 Heat|
|Avg. Pt. Diff.||16.0||10.9|
|By 6 or less or in OT||3||9|
|By 15 or more||17||7|
|Cum. opp. W% at time*||0.461||0.476|
|Cum. opp. W% at end**||0.477||0.472|
|.500+ opp. at time*||17||11|
|.500+ opp. at end**||15||12|
* Based on opponent record at the time of the game
** Based on opponent record at the end of the ’72-72 season (for LAL) or through Wednesday (for MIA)
No rest = Second night of a back-to-back or third night of a back-to-back-to-back