Posts Tagged ‘Gail Goodrich’

Riley: LeBron The Best Of … Them All?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Sometimes you have to let the words marinate for a bit, take your glasses off, rub your eyes and breathe in the gravity of a statement before you react to it.

I watched LeBron James smile his way through another (well deserved) Kia Most Valuable Player Award ceremony Sunday, his fourth in five seasons. I watched every second and listened intently to every word spoken. James won the award months ago, when he pushed the Heat into overdrive and set them on a course for a record season that included that wicked 27-game win streak and more highlights than basketball law allows.

James earned the right to do and say whatever he wanted. But it wasn’t his words that stopped me in my tracks. It was Heat president Pat Riley who forced me to pause when he uttered these words:

“Over these 46 years, I’ve had an opportunity to see some great players — and all the ones I’ve observed, watched and have seen, they’ve always gotten better. In my humble opinion, I believe the man right here is the best of them all.”

The best of them all?

Wow!

Let that sink in for a minute. Roll that statement around in your head and consider what Riley has seen, who he has coached and who he has coached against, and then say it out loud again.

“The best of them all.”

That’s a mouthful coming from a man who has seen and done what Riley has throughout his nearly half century in the game. He’s been immersed in the league longer than I’ve been alive, so I’m not here to refute his humble opinion or even to debate whether or not we should wrap our heads around the fact that LeBron has evolved — in a decade, mind you — into a player worthy of such high praise.

I’m here strictly to examine Riley’s words, to see if there is any way to scan the past four-plus decades of the league and rank LeBron ahead of the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and so many others.

This is a man who played on the Lakers’ 1972 championship team alongside Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. So his humble opinion comes from a very particular place (player, coach and executive who has won championships), one where few men in the history of the game can draw from.

And yet I still needed time to digest his high praise of LeBron.

Riley was an assistant with the Lakers when a 20-year-old Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out seven assists in Game 6 of The Finals his rookie year to secure a championship while playing in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was the Lakers’ coach for the four other titles they won during Magic’s tenure as the leader and maestro of the Showtime Lakers.

He watched Magic revolutionize the game, from the inside.

And Sunday he called LeBron the “best of them all.”

Riley’s Lakers teams battled Larry Bird and the Celtics and, later, he took on Jordan. When Riley coached the New York Knicks, his teams battled Jordan’s Bulls when Jordan was at his zenith. Anyone involved with the league during Jordan’s glory years, teammates and foes alike, tends to show him the proper respect and admit that he’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.

Riley retired Jordan’s No. 23 in Miami for Naismith’s sake. And Sunday, he called LeBron the “best of them all.”

Riley came down from the front office to coach the Shaq and Dwyane Wade-led Heat to a title in 2006. And on Sunday, after three full seasons with LeBron, he called the current king of the league the “best of them all.”

The same declaration from almost any other man would mean little to most. Everyone has opinions about who the true G.O.A.T is and most of them are framed by a generational bias that is hard to shake. But when a man with a breadth of experience that travels through time, or at least the past 46 years, points a finger at someone, it wakes you up.

Now, there will be cynics who insist that Riley is simply doing his duty as the Heat’s boss and making sure to dollop the proper praise on his star. After all, Riley is going to need LeBron’s signature on an extension soon to keep the Heat’s current run going.

But Riley doesn’t waste his words. And he certainly doesn’t seem like the type who will pander to a superstar’s ego in that way or on that stage, not just for soundbite’s sake.

Riley has competed with or against and coached or coached against many of the players who make onto the short list we all use when discussing the “best of them all.” For 46 years, he’s been in the middle of the mix in one way or another, well before anyone even knew what analytics were and the advanced-stats craze reshaped the game.

So when he speaks on a topic like this, one that crosses all of the generational lines most people avoid during these discussions, it’s hard not to take his words to heart.

And even if LeBron still trails Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Shaq and many others in the championship rings race, is it so far-fetched to believe that he really does rank at the very top as a truly unique and once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent?

Riley says no.

What say you?

The Time Is Now To Beat The Heat


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Can’t you picture the Hornets, Spurs, Knicks, Bobcats and Sixers salivating already?

It’s time to jump on the Heat while they’re down, exhausted, spent after a 27-game winning streak that lasted nearly two full months.

Despite what the Miami players have been saying, that kind of long period of excellence takes a toll, mentally and physically.

Who says?

History.

After the 1969-70 Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley had what was then an NBA record 18-game win streak snapped by Detroit, they bounced back to take three straight, but then lost four out of five to add up to a 4-5 stretch over a period of 17 days.

  • Nov. 29 vs. Pistons, lost 110-98.
  • Dec. 2 vs. Sonics, won 129-109.
  • Dec. 5 at Baltimore, won 116-107.
  • Dec. 6,vs. Bucks, won 124-99.
  • Dec. 9 at Cincinnati, lost 103-101.
  • Dec. 10 at Milwaukee, lost 96-95.
  • Dec. 11 at Seattle, lost 112-105.
  • Dec. 13 vs. Sixers, lost 100-93.
  • Dec. 16 at Atlanta, lost 125-124.

The very next year when the Bucks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson set a new record with 20 consecutive wins, their streak ended with a double-overtime loss at Chicago and they lost three straight and five of the last six games to close out the regular season.

  • Mar. 9 at Chicago, lost 110-103 (2 OT).
  • Mar. 13 at New York, lost 108-103.
  • Mar. 14 vs. Suns, lost 125-113.
  • Mar. 16 at Phoenix, won 119-111.
  • Mar. 18 at Seattle, lost 122-121.
  • Mar.19 at San Diego, lost 111-99.

The legendary 1971-72 Lakers of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich came along the very next season to hang the record so far out there at 33 in a row that it still eluded the Heat 41 years later. But even that Hall of Fame trio couldn’t avoid a letdown. After the streak was ended by Kareem and the Bucks, the Lakers lost three of their next five.

  • Jan. 9 at Milwaukee, lost 120-104.
  • Jan. 11 at Detroit, won 123-103.
  • Jan. 12 at Cincinnati, lost 108-107.
  • Jan. 14 at Philadelphia, won 135-121.
  • Jan. 21 vs. Knicks, lost 104-101.
  • Jan. 22 at Phoenix, lost 116-102.

It took another 36 years until the 2007-08 Rockets tried to make a run at the record. But their fate was no different. After their 22-game win streak was smashed by Boston, Tracy McGrady and the Rockets were hammered the next night by the Hornets as they went on to lose four of their next seven.

  • Mar. 18 vs. Celtics, lost 94-74.
  • Mar. 19 at New Orleans, lost 90-69.
  • Mar. 21 at Golden State, won 109-106.
  • Mar. 22 at Phoenix, lost 122-113.
  • Mar. 24 vs. Kings, won 108-100.
  • Mar. 26 vs. Timberwolves, won 97-86.
  • Mar. 30 at San Antonio, lost 109-88.
  • Apr. 1 at Sacramento, lost 99-98.

Of course, the good news for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the gang is that all of those teams except the Rockets gathered themselves in time for the playoffs and went on to win the NBA championship and the Heat will still be the heavy favorites to do that in June.

But for now, history says it’s time to watch for a case of the Post-Streak Blues.

And for every team coming up on the schedule to pounce.

Riley’s Thread Ties Streak Record Chase

If the Heat finally run their win streak to 34, break the record of the legendary 1971-72 Lakers and plant their flag in the pages of history, it will likely be the result of something spectacular done by LeBron James. Or heroic by Dwyane Wade. Or timely by Chris Bosh. Or perhaps out-of-this-world unexpected by the likes of Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers.

But making it all happen will have been Pat Riley, the link to past and present. As much as anyone in the game over the past four-plus decades, he’s the thread you cannot pull without some part of the NBA story unraveling — from the Showtime Lakers to the Slow Time Knicks to the South Beach Shuffle.

This steamrolling monster is his creation, a plan so bold and audacious that nobody really thought he could pull it off, and it all grew out of an intense drive that is belied by the image of slicked-back hair and designer suits.

The truth is, he’s always been far more Arm & Hammer than Armani, the Schenectady, N.Y., street tough who absorbed the work ethic of a father who toiled for 22 years in baseball’s minor leagues.

On that historic Lakers team with Hall of Famers Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, Riley was a member of the supporting cast, but no less vital to the cause.

“He’s tenacious,” West said recently in a conference call with reporters. “I’d say to him in practice, ‘Go beat the hell out of Goodrich, I’m tired.’ ”

He’d been a high school star and his Linton team took down mighty Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial in 1961. He starred for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky when the Wildcats lost to the first all-black lineup from Texas Western in 1966 and was the No. 7 overall pick in the 1967 NBA draft by the expansion San Diego Rockets.

But by the time he was part of that famous Lakers roster, Riley was like a circus mouse trying to avoid getting trampled by the elephants. He used his wits to survive, sheer hustle to make his presence felt and overall relentlessness to carve out a nine-year NBA career.

“He definitely wanted to play more,” West said. “But it was a special group of guys and, like all of us, he understood that.”

Sure, he would never have won those four championships as a coach in L.A. without stars named Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. He wouldn’t have headlined on Broadway without a marquee star in Patrick Ewing. He wouldn’t be sitting in the middle of this 21st century media-frenzied hullaballoo today without the overpowering phenomenon that is now LeBron. Yet his own past has taught him the value of the cast of formidable role players he has brought to Miami in Battier and Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole.

Miami draws attention for its glamor — James taking the express elevator to the top floor to hammer home the dunk in Orlando or flushing and then scowling at Jason Terry in Boston — but the Heat have become the only team to seriously threaten the 33-game win streak because of a defense that is ferocious, hungry and unforgiving, like their architect.

For all that he has done on the many sidelines and the various front offices, maybe nothing defines him like the 1985 NBA Finals, when the Celtics blasted his Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

Before his team took the floor for Game 2 at the old Boston Garden, Riley repeated words that had once been spoken by his father:

“The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back … Some place, sometime, you are going to have to plant your feet, stand firm, and make a point about who you are and what you believe in. When that time comes, you simply have to do it.”

The Lakers won Game 2 and eventually the series, defeating the Celtics for the first time ever in the postseason to claim one of their most significant championships.

At 68, that drive and resolve are the rhythms that beat at his core, the occasional awkward dance steps on YouTube jammin’ to Bob Marley notwithstanding.

So when James and Bosh were both heading toward free agency three years ago and most NBA teams were scrambling for a way to get their hands on one of them, Riley’s plan was the bigger, bolder and bodacious one. An old friend who’d stopped by for a visit in Miami during that time recalls stepping into a darkened office where Riley sat, half-lit by the beam of a single desk lamp as wisps of smoke from a cigarette rose past his face.

“He reminded me of Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now,” said the friend. “Who knew what was going on inside that head?”

Now we know as we watch his awesome creation keep marching on.

“I’m happy for my friend, Pat Riley,” said West, “who was able to do it as a player and is able to replicate it as an executive.”

The thread through history with ties that bind.

Heat Have To Be Careful Chasing History



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As a card-carrying member of the “Go-For-What-You-Know-Right-Now” club, it pains me to even think about what I’m about to suggest.

But after watching the Miami Heat’s latest comeback effort to keep their win streak (24 games and counting) alive in Cleveland, someone has to go ahead and say it out loud: Chasing the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA-record 33-game win streak might not be worth the wear and tear, both physical and emotional, that the Heat will have to endure on their way to the playoffs.

Their streak is nothing short of amazing in today’s NBA, a remarkable feat by any measure. You only hope this pursuit of greatness — even with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and their teammates Stephen Jackson-ing pressure situations on the regular — doesn’t break the Heat down later.

Remember, that vaunted Lakers’ team led by Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich went on their 33-game tear from November 5, 1971 to January 9, 1972. Since I wasn’t born back then, I’m making a huge assumption here, but … the Lakers would have had time to wrap themselves up in the streak, process the mind-boggling feat of winning every night out for months, enjoy being untouchable and then move on in plenty of time for the postseason, where they won it all.

They had plenty of time to rest, recover and recharge for the playoffs and their quest for the ultimate prize.

The toll taken on the only other team to chase the streak into this territory since then, the Houston Rockets from 2007-08, however, was substantial.

Heat forward Shane Battier, as integral a piece on that Rockets team as he is now alongside James and Wade, remembers that 22-game grind well. “That was so different, because that streak was pretty organic,” he said. “It came out of left field and no one could explain it. We couldn’t explain it, because it was a bunch of journeymen and role players doing it.

“The thing I remember about that streak was the Laker game, when we won 22. It took everything out of us. Kobe tried to single-handedly beat us on national TV. And it took everything out of us. And Boston came in the next game and kicked our butts. We actually lost four out of five after that. We just were spent emotionally.”

The Heat will have a such a huge cushion in the Eastern Conference standings whenever their streak ends that they’ll be able to survive whatever comes next and stay atop the standings. What they have to guard against, though, is any lingering residue from the streak that could impact their postseason.

This is a team that will not be defined by this streak, but by how they finish the season. And they know as much.

“We have bigger goals,” Battier said. “It’s cool to win [24], but our main goal is still ahead of us. In Houston, it was so out of left field and no one could explain it. That was fun, because it was truly lightning in a bottle. We appreciate the work and the luck that goes into something like this.”

The marathon that is the 82-game NBA season has built-in pockets where even the greatest of teams need to take advantage of the opportunities to rest their biggest stars. (I am in no way co-signing Gregg Popovich‘s rest tactics for the San Antonio Spurs … but I’m not saying I disagree with his tactics, either.)

I agree with the crowd that believes there is wisdom in preserving the physical well-being of the men who will be charged with collecting 16 playoff wins/ They mean far more than any of the 24 victories in the Heat’s streak.

A day will come when a 27-point deficit will not be worth trying to rally back from, when the burden of this streak, the fatigue of such a monumental endeavor, will not be worth risking what’s to come.

We’re aware, and it’s a special opportunity that we have with this group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this week, before sweating through that Cleveland comeback. “And you don’t want to take it for granted. You want to treat every day as a special opportunity to be with this group, to share these moments together, but more importantly to take a step closer to going after our goal. And every day that we improve puts us in a better position in a quest where nothing is guaranteed for anybody.”

He’s absolutely right about that quest. Nothing is guaranteed, especially in the postseason. So it’s best to go in as physically and mentally ready as possible.

Heat Streaking To A Place Of Their Own




We’re past the point now where the Heat can slip on their noise-canceling headphones and pretend the only beats they hear have been downloaded according to personal taste.

After 105-103 in Boston on Monday night, the drums are pounding louder than the “1812 Overture” all over the basketball world.

The Heat’s 23rd consecutive victory pushed them past the anomaly that was the 2008 Rockets and at very least tiptoes them across the threshold and inches them into the throne room with royalty.

Wilt, West and Goodrich. LeBron, Wade and Bosh. That’s a Hall of Fame red carpet that’s rolled out between them.

Make no mistake. It is all no more than a hollowed-out log if they aren’t standing under a shower of confetti and holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Because that’s why you play the game. It is fine for the contrarian Jeff Van Gundy and stat geek Daryl Morey to point out that these serpentine win streaks that stretch from one month into the next are almost as rare as unicorns and therefore technically more difficult to achieve than championships.

But let me know the next time somebody hangs a win streak banner from the rafters or hands out rings for consecutive regular-season wins.

As Magic Johnson said: “I’ll take the diamonds.”

Heat upcoming schedule
Day Date Loc. Opponent Time (ET) TV
Wed. 3/20 @ Cleveland 7 p.m. League Pass
Fri. 3/22 vs. Detroit 7:30 p.m. League Pass
Sun. 3/24 vs. Charlotte 6 p.m. League Pass
Mon. 3/25 @ Orlando 7 p.m. League Pass
Wed. 3/27 @ Chicago 8 p.m. ESPN
Fri. 3/29 @ New Orleans 8 p.m. League Pass
Sun. 3/31 @ San Antonio 7 p.m. NBA TV

Still, there is no denying that what is happening here is special. Even the usual facade of the ‘”We’re-above-it-all” Heat is slipping to reveal the emotion that’s building like the lava dome under a volcano.

A week ago, those in the Miami locker room still insisted that nobody was thinking about a double-digit win streak or rushing to flip ahead several pages in the record book. But a look at the expressions and the emotions that showed on the Heat faces in the fourth quarter at the TD Garden on Monday night showed just how much has changed. They were down 13 with eight minutes to play. Rather than appear defeated, the Heat were defiant.

It is prudent to note that they are just over 2/3 of the way from the record of 33 held by the 1971-72 Lakers. If the Heat were an individual player chasing Wilt’s 100-point game, they would have 69. Impressive, but still a long way off. Yet stepping over the flotsam of the Houston team that couldn’t even win a first-round playoff series in 2008 clears a path toward their own unique place in the game.

“It means a lot,” James said. “I am a historian of the game. I know the history of the game. I know almost all the teams that have come through the ranks. To be sitting in second place right now, with so much that this game has given to our fans and everything, for us to be there, doing it the way we want to do it, it means a lot.”

Back in the summer of 2010, in the aftermath of “The Decision,” James was ridiculed for ticking off the number of championships that the Heat could win — “not one … not two … not three … not four … not five … not six … not seven …”

But now that they’ve got the first title, and it seems reasonable to think there’s another in the pipeline, this could be their once-in-a-slam-dunking-lifetime opportunity to put an indelible stamp and stake a place in the NBA’s pantheon.

While Michael Jordan’s Bulls won six championships, it is the 1996 team that set a regular season record of 72-10 that stands above them all. The 1967 Sixers, led by Chamberlain, won a then-record 68 regular-season games and made their mark by ending the eight-year reign of Bill Russell’s Celtics. The 1983 Sixers vaulted from an overpowering 68-14 regular season to the pinnacle behind Moses Malone’s “Fo’, fo’, fo’ “ proclamation that they nearly fulfilled by running through the playoffs with a 12-1 record. And, of course, the Lakers ran off their 33-0 streak early in the 1971-72 season, won a then-record 69 games and made their claim as the all-time best team by closing the deal on the championship.

A singular achievement. That’s where the Heat are now, fully engaged and fully aware that this is now the stuff of legacy. It is what James and Wade and Bosh came together to do.

“We’re aware, and it’s a special opportunity that we have with this group,” said coach Erik Spoelstra. “And you don’t want to take it for granted. You want to treat every day as a special opportunity to be with this group, to share these moments together, but more importantly to take a step closer to going after our goal. And every day that we improve puts us in a better position in a quest where nothing is guaranteed for anybody.”

It is almost a living, breathing creature inside the locker room, one they’ve fed and fueled. It forces the Heat to look at themselves differently.

The beat goes on, only now they’re driving it.

Defense Grew Rockets’ 22-Game Streak

 

HOUSTON — As far as seismic shifts in the landscape go, there was no tremor, no low rumble of an earthquake’s warning and it never hit with the fiery blast of a volcanic eruption.

When the Rockets went 49 days — seven full weeks — without a single loss in 2008, it grew quietly for the longest time like an oak tree’s roots growing up through the cracks in a sidewalk until one day it was busting apart the concrete.

The 22-game win streak, second-longest in NBA history, is the outlier in the record book, the one that nobody, even themselves, saw coming, and many, even in hindsight, can still not comprehend.

Before the defending champion Heat, led by the three-headed juggernaut of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, joined the club, only three teams in history had won 20 in a row. The 1971-72 Lakers with their record of 33 consecutive wins and a star-studded roster of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich went on to win the NBA title. The 1970-71 Bucks, led by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, ran off 20 straight on their way to win it all.

In fact, of the top eight win streaks ever in the NBA before the Heat, five of those teams won championships. Only the Rockets did not get out of the first round of the playoffs.

“Our names will be mentioned with Hall of Fame people,” said point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”

Shane Battier, now with Miami, has called the Rockets’ streak “organic,” part of a process that evolved over time.

It wasn’t often flashy or pretty, but it was effective, like seeing a boa constrictor slowly squeeze the life out of its prey.

The Rockets were led by Tracy McGrady’s bundle of offensive skills, but they survived the loss of Yao Ming and they won and won with a growing confidence and surging defense. During the 22-game streak, they held 19 of their opponents under 100 points and 13 under 90. They won 14 games by double figures, an average margin of 12.36, and had only three games decided by fewer than six points. They won 15 games at home and seven on the road.

The Rockets even won the last 10 without their All-Star center Yao, whose season was ended by a stress fracture in his left foot on Feb. 26.

“Every time a team gets a chance to come close, the streak comes up,” said forward Luis Scola, now with the Suns. “It was a great stretch. It was a good team. If we lose any of those games it wouldn’t change that fact. But maybe that team wouldn’t be as remembered.

“You know we were playing well. It was a fun team to play with. The momentum that we had going. We were playing very well. We were beating teams just because we were good…That month and a half was great. I remember it was a lot of fun.”

The Rockets were 15-17 on Jan. 2 and 24-20 when they beat Golden State 111-107 on a night when Yao was dominant with 39 points and 19 rebounds. They were fighting for their playoffs lives, sitting precariously as the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Two nights later, they went on the road to win at Indiana 106-103 and ran off seven straight wins where they never gave up 90 points.

“What we’re developing is a great team like the Pistons,” said McGrady. “A great defensive team going out there and playing together and not relying on one or two people to score the rock.”

No. 8 was their narrowest escape, needing Steve Novak to come off the bench to hit a 3-pointer — his only field goal of the game — with two seconds left to rescue an 89-87 win over the Kings.

The streak continued through trades. On the afternoon of No. 10, they sent Bonzi Wells to New Orleans and Kirk Snyder to Minnesota, yet didn’t miss a beat in thumping Miami. They attracted real notice around the league when they whipped the No. 1-seeded Hornets in New Orleans.

When the Rockets took the floor on Feb. 26, the word was out that Yao was lost for the season and the fears inside Toyota Center were palpable. But with 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo blocking shots, waving his finger and filling the middle, the streak rolled on.

“You could probably check this, but I’m thinking all the way to the 17th or 18th game of the winning streak we still were in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or something like that,” Scola said. “It was a really tough year for the West. The playoffs were in jeopardy.” (more…)

History: Fear The Streaking Clippers

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HANG TIME, Texas — It might be time to change the name of Lob City to Titletown or Bannerburgh.

Either way the streaking Clippers are on the verge of moving into a rather exclusive neighborhood that merits quite serious attention. It’s a ritzy place that comes with lots of shiny gold hardware.

When Chris Paul and his pals won back-to-back games over the Jazz to run it up to 17 consecutive wins, they squeezed into a tie for the ninth-longest single-season streak in NBA history.

With one more win tonight at Denver — No. 18 — the Clippers would take another step toward forcing themselves into the conversation as honest-to-goodness contenders.

Of course, the 1971-72 Lakers top the list with their all-time record 33-game win streak that many consider to be unbreakable. But of the eight teams currently ahead of the Clippers, five of them went on that same season to win the NBA championship and two others advanced to the conference finals. Only the 2007-08 Rockets failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

1971-72 L.A. Lakers
Streak: 33

Coach: Bill Sharman
Stars: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich

Start: Nov. 5, 1971 (110-106 over Bullets)

End: Jan. 7, 1972 (120-104 to Bucks)

Record: 69-13

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

2007-08 Houston Rockets

Streak: 22 games
Coach: Rick Adelman
Stars: Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming

Start: Jan. 29, 2008 (111-107 over Warriors)

End: March 18, 2008 (94-74 to Boston Celtics)

Record: 55-27

Playoff result: Lost in first round

1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks

Streak: 20
Coach: Larry Costello
Stars: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson

Start: Feb. 6, 1971 (111-105 over Warriors)

End: March 8, 1971 (110-103 in OT to Bulls)

Record: 66-16

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

1999-2000 L.A. Lakers

Streak: 19
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal

Start: Feb. 4, 2000 (113-67 over Jazz)

End: March 13, 2000 (109-102 to Wizards)

Record: 67-15

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

2008-09 Boston Celtics
Streak: 19

Coach: Doc Rivers
Stars: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen

Start: Nov. 15, 2008 (102-97 over Bucks)

End: Dec. 25, 2008 (92-83 to Lakers)

Record: 62-20

Playoff result: Lost in conference semifinals

1969-70 N.Y. Knicks
Streak: 18

Coach: Red Holzman
Stars: Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley

Start: Oct. 24, 1969 (116-92 over Pistons)

End: Nov. 29, 1969 (110-98 to Pistons)

Record: 60-22

Playoff result: Won NBA championship

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Streak: 18
Coach: Bill Fitch
Stars: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish

Start: Feb. 24, 1982 (132-90 over Jazz)

End: March 28, 1982 (116-98 to 76ers)

Record: 63-19

Playoff result: Lost in conference finals

1995-96 Chicago Bulls

Streak 18
Coach: Phil Jackson
Stars: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman

Start: Dec. 29, 1995 (120-93 over Pacers)

End: Feb. 4, 1996 (105-99 to Nuggets)

Record: 72-10

Playoff result: Won title

2012-13 L.A. Clippers
Streak: 17
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
Stars: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
Start: Nov. 28, 2012 (101-95 over Timberwolves)
End: ???

* 20 consecutive wins by 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs was split between 10 regular season and 10 playoffs and thereby does not qualify officially.

A Six-pack Under The All-Star Radar



HANG TIME, Texas
— All-Star.

It’s a word that explodes rather than rolls off the tongue. It’s the gaudy label that usually gets attached to the players who crackle, pop and send sparks flying like an electricity transformer that’s been struck by lightning.

But what of the players who spend their long careers quietly humming through the power lines and rarely getting noticed?

The patron saint of the overlooked is Eddie Johnson, who played 17 seasons with the Kings, Suns, Sonics, Hornets, Pacers and Rockets, 1,199 games and scored more points (19,202) than any player in NBA history without once being selected to play in the All-Star Game. He still ranks in the top 50 all-time scorers in the league, ahead of Hall of Famers Gail Goodrich and Scottie Pippen.

Sitting at Johnson’s right hand is Derek Harper, who played 16 seasons with the Mavericks, Knicks, Magic and Lakers and retired in 1999 ranking 11th on the all-time steals and 17th in career assists and never got a single chance to take an All-Star bow.

So with a nod of appreciation for their efforts and in honor of Johnson and Harper, it’s time to take a look at a six-pack of current players who have been flying under the radar and might be due some All-Star love before they’re gone:

Jamal Crawford, Clippers, 13th season — All those years of playing for bad teams in Chicago, New York, Golden State and Portland with the only two playoff seasons of his career mixed in with the Hawks has built up and often well-deserved reputation as a mad gunner who’ll take any shots as soon as he’s in the building. But consider those teams, consider that he was often cast in exactly that role to provide big points off the bench. Now he’s in a perfect place in reserve with the best-in-the-NBA Clippers and is having the time of his career.

Al Jefferson, Jazz, 9th season — He’s learned to use those big hands to become a very good passer out of double-teams, but his strength is still as a low post scorer from the left block. His scoring average is down a bit over the past few seasons because he doesn’t have to carry so much of the load with an influx of talent. Nothing at all fancy about the way he plays, but shows up every game to put in an honest night’s work and produces. Playing the bulk of your career in Minnesota and Utah will never help anybody’s profile. He has deserved his due.

Kevin Martin, Thunder, 9th season – How foolish now does anyone feel who wondered if this guy would be able to step into the hole left by James Harden’s departure in Oklahoma City? There’s no beard and he doesn’t have the explosiveness, but having already proven over a seven-year span in Sacramento and Houston that he could carry an offense, now he fits like a hand inside a custom-sown glove with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s shooting a career-best-by-far 45.5 percent on 3s, 93 percent on free throws and, most important, has not caused OKC to miss a beat.

Andre Miller, Nuggets, 14th season — How does a guard you’d never want taking a shot with your life on the line keep moving ahead in his second decade in the league? But using his slick veterans moves to get to the rim himself or to use his amazing passing skills to get up his teammates for layups or dunks. Either way the result is usually an easy finish. In every one of his seasons there have always been other point guards who were faster and quicker and could fill up the basket more. But a guy with his smarts and productivity should have taken one All-Star bow by now.

Josh Smith, Hawks, 9th season – Because he’s still only 27, because he can still make your jaw drop from either a stupendous or stupid shot, the NBA world has managed to turn right by Smith. That’s despite his putting together a career stat line — soon to be 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocked shots — that will rank him among the all-time greats. There are signs that he’s finally learning and other times when his shot selection still makes you cringe. If there is a current player who can eclipse Eddie Johnson as the best to never play in a single All-Star Game, it’s J-Smoove. But at 27, maybe there’s still plenty of time.

Anderson Varejao, Cavs, 9th season – For the early part of his career he was merely the one-trick pony who threw himself around like a bucking bronco just let out of the chute. But now Varejao is leading the league in rebounding at 14.4 per game, also averaging a career-high 14.1 points and therefore is tied for fourth place in double-doubles with 16 in his first 25 games. While the big question around the league is whether a would-be contender will be able to pry him away from the rebuilding Cavs, the other is if Cleveland’s place near the bottom of the standings will cost Varejao his earned recognition as an All-Star?

Will Shaq’s jersey irk Kareem, too?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – How might the news desk be at Kareemabduljabbar.com today in the aftermath of Shaquille O’Neal’s retirement and the indication that the Lakers are ready to fast-track The Big Aristotle’s jersey to a place up in the rafters at the Staples Center.

According to Dave McMenamin at ESPNLosAngeles.com, the Lakers may not be inclined to wait the five years until Shaq enters the Hall of Fame to have his No. 34 join Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13), Elgin Baylor (No. 22), Gail Goodrich (No. 25), Earvin “Magic” Johnson (No. 32), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (No. 33), James Worthy (No. 42) and Jerry West (No. 44).

The question then is how this will all sit with Abdul-Jabbar, who created a recent stir with his complaint that the Lakers have not honored his achievements in the purple-and-gold with a statue outside the arena.

“I don’t understand (it). It’s either an oversight or they’re taking me for granted,” Abdul-Jabbar told The Sporting News in a recent interview. “I’m not going to try to read people’s minds, but it doesn’t make me happy. It’s definitely a slight. I feel slighted.”

The six-time NBA MVP sounded even more offended in a statement released subsequently by his business manager.

“I am highly offended by the total lack of acknowledgement of my contribution to Laker success,” Abdul-Jabbar was quoted as saying. “I guess being the linchpin for five world championships is not considered significant enough in terms of being part of Laker history.”

As one of the first high-profile athletes to have converted to become a Muslim decades ago, what Abdul-Jabbar does not address in his desire to have a statue commissioned and erected is the apparent conflict with his religion. According to the tenets of Islam, photographic, artistic or other depiction of any living thing — including persons — is banned.

When the Rockets wanted to honor center Hakeem Olajuwon with a statue outside the Toyota Center in Houston, it took nearly five years for the Hall of Fame center, his imam, the team and an artist to agree on an abstract representation that did not violate his beliefs. So far, there has been no word from that Abdul-Jabbar on that subject.

Reflecting On Wooden

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Posted by Sekou Smith

LOS ANGELES – As expected, the passing of famed UCLA coach and basketball icon John Wooden has produced a wide range of emotions amongst the natives here in Southern California.

Lakers star Kobe Bryant is no different, having spent all of his adult life in this town being reminded of Wooden and his legacy by so many inside and outside of the Lakers organization.

Bryant spoke briefly about Wooden and their unique relationship after the Lakers wrapped up practice Saturday at their facility in El Segundo.

“Well, I mean, to say he was a great coach I think doesn’t do it any justice,” Bryant said. “I think his legacy speaks for itself.  The personal experience that I’ve had with him was the first time ‑‑ I saw him once at a UCLA basketball game when I was really young and we spoke briefly, and then we spoke at length at Chick Hearn‘s funeral.  We spoke for about 25, 30 minutes.

“I think if you talk to any of his players, players that played for him, I think the thing that’s consistent is that he made them better people, you know.  I think that would be a true mark of his legacy.  The winning and all that stuff, that’s stuff that we all know about.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has a framed picture of Wooden on his desk back in Boston. It’s his own tribute to a coaching legend that he holds in the highest regard.

“He was the best coach ever, him and Red Auerbach are the two guys that we talk about, the gods, and there are two of them,” Rivers said. “So the fact that I got to meet him and he actually knew my name, to me blew me away on its own right.  I don’t ask for a lot of autographs, and he was one that I wanted, and he was as gracious as we thought he would be.  You know, to have those two on your desk, I don’t think you need to further your collection.  You know, those are the two best.

“Tough, sad loss, really, for all of us.  But with Wooden, I think he’s one of the rare superstars that stood out more about him as a person than he did as a coach or anything.  And that’s rare, when you say that about any star in any business.”

Bryant and Rivers weren’t the only ones asked about and prepared to speak about Wooden. Lakers coach Phil Jackson also shared his thoughts:

You know, I guess of the 150,000 people that are reciting John’s legendary fame, I just stand in awe of the guy. I think as a young basketball player growing up and watching the ’62 Bruins, the ’63 Bruins, the era that I came out of high school and watching this team, this pesky team of 6’5″ guys, Keith Erickson and Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich roll out a great record and play the incredible defense that they played with the speed that they played at, I think that that was my first awareness of John Wooden.”

“You know, obviously one of his Final Four games was against my colleague, Tex Winter.  They had great a rivalry going.  Tex always tells the story that his team was ahead by four points going into the last stretch of the ballgame, and there was a blizzard out in Kansas.  The game’s in Kansas City which was close to Manhattan, Kansas, where he was coaching at Kansas State, and then the UCLA girls showed up and the cheerleaders led his team on, the Bruins, on to victory.  He said, I think the referees got enamored with the Bruins cheerleaders, all those beautiful California girls.”

So that’s a 40‑year ago, 50‑year ago vision in a man who was eventually ‑‑ went on to win nine more championships in a number of years.  He did it then with unbelievable talent, talent started coming in his direction with obviously Lew AlcindorKareem Abdul‑Jabbar ‑ and a myriad of other players that came in there.  But that first initial group won has always kind of a special place as to his activity, how he prepared his teams, their defensive mindset, and the things that he really believed in basketball as a coach.

You can expect the testimonials and reflections to continue to flow about Wooden, one of the greatest teachers, coaches and men to grace us all with his presence.

R.I.P John Wooden!