Posts Tagged ‘Jerry West’

Rating Ray Allen’s Big 3-Pointer

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Ray Allen‘s clutch corner 3-pointer that sent Game 6 of The Finals to overtime didn’t even rank among the top three impact plays in the final analysis of that epic contest.

My main man and’s analytics expert John Schuhmann said something about the shot only increasing the Heat’s win probability by 10.8 percent, from 22.0 percent to 32.7 percent, or something like that.

But if the measurement was “Most Memorable 3-pointers Made in The Finals,” Allen’s shot that saved the Heat’s season (for at least 48, or more, minutes) has to rank among the best clutch shots from long distance anyone has made.

Win Game 7 Thursday night and, years from now, Allen’s shot will be the one that sticks out. It’ll rank right along some of the greatest clutch 3-pointers in the history of The Finals … shots like these:

Big Shot Bob (aka Robert Horry)’s dagger for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 …

John Paxson’s crunch-time strike for the Chicago Bulls in 1993 …

TNT’s Kenny Smith’s money shot for the Houston Rockets in 1995 …

Dirk Nowitzki’s long-range shredder for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 …

Jerry West’s 60-footer (it was only worth two points then) for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 …

And finally, Ron Artest’s (now Metta World Peace) game-saver for the Lakers in 2010 …

Pilot’s Tale Of Lakers’ Near-Disaster Hits Bookstores

Long before Ray Kinsella assured Shoeless Joe Jackson that, no, this wasn’t heaven, “it’s Iowa,” a plane full of NBA players and staff rightfully could have wondered the same thing about their own field of dreams.

Fifty-three years ago, the Minneapolis Lakers didn’t come back from beyond to play a basketball game in rural Iowa – they almost went in the opposite direction when their team plane experienced mechanical issues while carrying them home from a game that night against the St. Louis Hawks.

That harrowing trip and its impropable stop in a confield in Carroll, Iowa, is the subject of a new book, “The Miracle Landing” (Signalman Publishing, May 2013) written by the co-pilot that night, Harold Gifford.

Gifford, 89, a retired World War II pilot and aviation professional who lives in Woodbury, Minn., has told the story in bits and pieces through the years, most conspicuously three years ago to reporters working up 50th-anniversary accounts of the near-tragedy. But he finally has pulled it together in book form, with the subtitle: “The true story of how the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers almost perished in an Iowa cornfield during a January blizzard.”

Straight to the point, certainly. But it only suggests at the implications of what might have been. Or rather, what might not have been.

The NBA was a more raggedy operation in those days, after all. The Lakers were a proud franchise with five championships in their past, but they had fallen on hard times in the Twin Cities. George Mikan was long gone and, because of difficulty securing a proper place to play, so were many of their fans. By 1959-60, the team was losing twice as many games as it won; even a stellar rookie named Elgin Baylor couldn’t pull Minneapolis closer to St. Louis in the Western Division than 21 games.

Owner Bob Short, who owned the DC-3 plane, was within months of relocating the whole shebang to Los Angeles, where the No. 2 pick in the 1960 draft, Jerry West (selected right after Oscar Robertson), would join Baylor for the start of what has been the franchise’s long, glamorous and successful stay in southern California.

Still, it’s safe to say that if the unthinkable had happened, the NBA might have moved on. It would have been in no hurry to replace a team in the Twin Cities and it might have been years, through expansion or another franchise move, before the league planted a flag in L.A.

Certainly, it wouldn’t have been named the Lakers.

“This incredible story is a turning point of Lakers history and the more the fans know about their team, the more they love us,” Jeanie Buss, executive VP of the Lakers, said for the book’s press release. “Because of this miracle landing, the players and other passengers on this flight would be able to continue their lives with their families and their loved ones for the next half-center.”

That, of course, is the real happy ending. But the NBA by-product was that the Lakers survived, as a group and as a brand, to build on a legacy of championships and remarkable play.

None of it more remarkable, though, than the work of Gifford and fellow pilot Vern Ullman that snowy night. The plane’s electrical system shut down, its radio went dark, the instruments and windows in the cockpit began to ice over. The Lakers players and staff shivered and sweated in the back, simultaneously. The pilots dipped low, seeking visibility, risking the treeline.

Less than a year earlier, rock ‘n’ roll’s Buddy Holly‘s plane had gone done in similar bad weather in Mason City, Iowa. This time, pilot Gifford peered out an open side window and locked onto highway US-71 as a guide but couldn’t find a rural airport. The lights of tiny Carroll began to blink on as residents were awakened by the late-night roar of the plane’s engine.

In the distance, the pilots saw a snow-covered cornfield, unharvested, the stalks still standing upright. If they could only …

Aw, no sense trying to sum it all up here. Especially with the book out and available everywhere, in print and electronic forms, including here and here.

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?


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?

Can Dwight Make Lakers House A Home?


SAN ANTONIO — Long before they ever squared off down in the paint, exchanged pushes and shoves, elbows and hips and knees in the frenzy of a playoff game, Dwight Howard knew all about the Spurs’ No. 21.

“I literally grew up watching Tim Duncan,” said the Lakers center as he unlaced his sneakers following practice.

Howard was only 11 when Duncan was drafted No. 1 overall by San Antonio in 1997 and Duncan had already won two NBA titles by the time Howard entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2004.

“He’s a big guy who handled the ball, shot the ball well, had a lot of moves on the block and made it tough for guys to guard.  I loved watching that.”

But Howard never tried to imitate that. The truth is, his angular body and his offensive moves that are less-than fluid did always resemble those of another famous Spur, David Robinson. Those two have become friends, occasionally chatting by phone.

Yet when it came time for hero worship, Howard cast his gaze in the direction of, perhaps, the most famous big man of all time.

“My childhood idol was Wilt Chamberlain,” Howard said.

But it wasn’t grainy old videotapes that piqued his interest. The 1980′s-era Alphie the Robot, a one-foot tall toy that asked questions and dispensed bits of trivia to young minds, first told Howard about Chamberlain.

“He used to say: ‘Wilt Chamberlain scored a hundred points,’ ” Howard recalled.  “I was intrigued by Wilt Chamberlain from that moment on.  I wanted to meet him, but he died before I got a chance to get to the NBA.  He was my childhood idol.”

A six-year-old quickly began to research and learn about Chamberlain.

“He liked to have fun,” Howard said.

It’s funny how things turn out. Now Howard wears the Lakers jersey that Chamberlain once wore, lives just up the street from Wilt’s former Bel-Air palace in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“If you came out the back of his house and looked up to the right, my house is right there,” Howard said. “Mariah Carey lives right by me. You can see the ocean from my rooftop, downtown and the Staples Center from the back.

“And I’ve got a telescope just like Wilt had. The roof of his bedroom used to open and he’d look at the sky. Now I’m looking up at all the same stars.”

Along with a slice of the sky, it seems they also share struggles at the free throw line and a few personality traits, including a persecution complex. (more…)

Playoffs Snapshot — April 14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The last Sunday of the NBA regular season delivers a trio of marquee matchups that require our full attention (doesn’t everyone need a little something to take their mind off of Kobe Bryant‘s season-ending injury anyway?) during the eight-game slate.

It’s a big day for playoff locks and contenders, alike. And it’s a huge day for Bryant’s Lakers. Here’s what you need to keep an eye on:

CHICAGO BULLS at MIAMI HEAT (1 p.m. ET, ABC): This game means little to these two teams in terms of playoff standing. The Heat have already locked up home court advantage throughout the playoffs while the Bulls will end up with the fifth or sixth seed and out of the mix for home court advantage. What this game does have, however, is plenty of symbolic meaning for both sides. The Heat’s 27-game win streak came to an end in Chicago, the league’s resident streak busters (they also snapped the New York Knicks’ win streak at 13 games Thursday night). Resting LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh against a physical Bulls team in an essentially meaningless game for the Heat would be wise. Why take the risk?

But those bright lights will be on today and this is one last chance to send a message to a team that could be a legitimate threat to the Heat in the postseason. Will the Heat’s Big 3 resist the urge to make more than an appearance in the starting lineup before resting the remainder of the game?

As for the Bulls, the window for a Derrick Rose return during the regular season seems to have passed. And you better believe what happened to Bryant is weighing heavily on Rose’s psyche as he continues to contemplate his immediate future. There is simply not enough at stake for the Heat or the Bulls to take unnecessary risks, not even on the last Sunday of the regular season. Both Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, two guys notorious for wanting to maximize every moment, have the playoffs to think about now anyway.

DALLAS MAVERICKS at NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV): The Mavericks have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but Dirk Nowitzki can still reach a personal milestone today that only a select few players in the league have ever achieved. Nowitzki needs just 10 points to reach 25,000 for his career. He’ll become just the 17th player in NBA history to reach that plateau. Jerry West is 16th on that list with 25,192 points. Nowitzki ranks third among active players in career points behind Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

INDIANA PACERS at NEW YORK KNICKS (3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass): This is the sort of showdown worthy of the last Sunday of the regular season. The Knicks have a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed with a win on their home floor, a victory that not only secures their first round matchup against the No. 7 seed Boston Celtics but also completes their late-season walk down of the Pacers, who held a one-game lead over the Knicks for No. 2 a month ago.

Carmelo Anthony could use a little rest before the playoffs begin and if he and J.R. Smith and the rest of the Knicks who are healthy enough to suit up can get it done this afternoon, he might just get what he needs.

Roy Hibbert and David West should have a decided advantage inside if the Knicks’ wounded frontcourt forces Mike Woodson to start 6-foot-8 Chris Copeland at center again. The Pacers own a 2-1 advantage in the season series against the Knicks, but it won’t mean a thing of the Knicks lock up that No. 2 seed.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (9:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV): Bryant’s injury could have a devastating effect on the Lakers’ long-term prospects because there are so many moving parts heading into the summer, with or without a playoff appearance. Those worries will have to wait, though. The now Dwight Howard-led Lakers have business to handle against the Spurs and the remainder of their regular season schedule if they are going to fight off the Utah Jazz for that eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

You can bet Gregg Popovich won’t bother resting any of his biggest stars (the ones who are actually healthy) in this one, not with a chance to help close the door on the Lakers’ playoff chances. He can guarantee the Spurs won’t have to deal with the Lakers in the first round by making sure his team pushes their advantages in this showdown, and that includes a decided edge on the wing for the first time in a while without Bryant in uniform. The Spurs need this game just as much as the Lakers if they want that No. 1 seed in the West.

Just like it has been in nearly every game they have played the past two weeks, the Lakers’ season is on the line. They’ll be fighting for their playoff lives until the final buzzer of their final regular season game. They need this one in the worst way and everyone knows it. While Bryant spends his Sunday resting after Saturday surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles, the Lakers will try to save their season (for one more day) in his honor.

The Time Is Now To Beat The Heat


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?


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.

March Madness … Miami Heat Style!

MIAMI – March is the month of Madness for college basketball fans around the world. Rarely has it served a similar purpose for NBA fans.

“March is kind of a funky time in the NBA,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “Once you hit April you start smelling the playoffs a little bit.”

But the Miami Heat, with a huge assist from the Denver Nuggets, are doing their best to change that. The Heat’s winning streak is a whopping 25 games, second best all time in the NBA, and could be 26 before the nightly news ends if they handle their business against the Charlotte Bobcats this evening at AmericanAirlines Arena (pregame 5:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Some of the craziest and best moments of the Heat streak, which began Feb. 3 in Toronto, have come this month.

Payback wins over would-be Eastern Conference challengers New York (March 3) and Indiana (March 10) as well as dramatic finishes against Orlando (March 6) and wild comeback wins over Boston (March 18) and Cleveland (March 20) have all come during the 13 games the Heat have won this month.

The Heat haven’t exactly breezed through the competition during this streak. They’ve had to work for almost every win, which is what makes Heat coach Erik Spoelstra smile with the Bobcats and Magic up next before a Monday trip to Orlando kicks off a four-game road trip, with stops in Chicago Wednesday, New Orleans Friday and San Antonio Sunday, to finish off the month.

“However it is happening, teams are coming at us,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We can’t sleep walk into a game. We have to bring it. We have to play well at both ends. We have to dig. We have to earn wins. And we’re playing against our opponents’ best games. That only helps. That sharpens you. The more you get tested in this league, the better you get, as long as you handle it the right way. I like it. I like that every game we’re getting tested.”

The Heat have embraced everything about this streak, everything from the sluggish starts and dramatic finishes to the seemingly endless supply of questions about the streak itself and the chase to catch and surpass the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game streak.

“It is awesome,” Dwyane Wade said. “It is cool. If you think about it, there are teams in the league right now that don’t even have 25 wins for the season. You have to be thankful and very blessed to be in this situation right now and enjoy it while you have it.”

That doesn’t mean they’ve lost sight of what will define this season for them for years to come. Heat big man Chris Bosh said a recent discussion with a friend about the streak record compared to a championship provided him with what should be an obvious choice.

“I’m going to take the championship every time,” Bosh said. “You don’t get a plaque or a ring or nothing for 34 in a row. You get a record that will probably be broken one day. Records are meant to be broken. But championships last forever.

“Someone was telling me it’s way cooler to win 34 [in a row]. I’m like, ‘Man, please! Get out of here with that. They won’t be throwing confetti for that. I’ll guaran-damn-tee you that.’ ”

When word spread that Jerry West and other members of the Lakers’ 33-game streak team gushed about this Heat crew and wished them well in their quest to break the streak, Wade didn’t buy it.

“I don’t believe it,” Wade said and then laughed. “I don’t believe it.”

Resident hoops historian LeBron James, however, had a different reaction.

“I just appreciate it,” he said of the praise from West and others. “I appreciate the history. For them to say they are pulling for us to get the streak, that’s cool. I respect the game and I respect the guys who paved the way for me and the rest of my teammates. That is a cool thing [for them to do], but we have a long way to go and cannot focus on that right now.”

No, they can’t. The immediate focus is Charlotte, the rest of this month’s schedule — which includes those two road traps in Chicago and San Antonio — and trying to finish off their version of March Madness in style.

Jerry West A Believer And A Fan of Heat

Down through the years, any time another NFL team has approached matching their feat of an undefeated season, the members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins have openly rooted against them, even popping the cork on a celebratory bottle of champagne at the first loss.

However, as the leading man on the 1971-72 Lakers team that holds the NBA record for consecutive victories at 33, Jerry West is not only a believer in the Heat, but a fan.

“Honestly, I think they’ve got an incredible chance to do it,” said the Lakers Hall of Famer, now an executive with the Warriors, on a conference call Thursday. “I really do.

“People say to me, ‘Does it bother you?’ Absolutely not. I think it’s great for the league and I’m delighted obviously for my friend Pat Riley that he’s going to be able to maybe replicate this not only as an executive but as a player. That’s pretty special.”

Though the marquee lineup of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh grabs most of the attention, West praised the Heat for coming together to make a unit that’s greater than the sum of their parts.

“They have a team,” West said. “So much of the NBA has been about marketing its stars and players that have a flamboyant way of playing and we’ve got some incredible athletes playing this game. So much of the marketing of the NBA frankly has been about players.

“I think it’s time we talk about teams. When I look at the league this year, we’ve got a number of really good teams. And I’m not talking about individuals. You look how they play together. You’re talking about Denver, Memphis, San Antonio, obviously the Heat, and I don’t want to leave anyone out. I’m just mentioning those four teams, if you watch them play, particularly three of them.

“Miami has the biggest star in the game, OK? The best player in the game. Having him as a teammate has to be very special for all the other players. He makes it easy for them. He’s one of those unique players that comes along, a Kobe Bryant, players like that. (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar, some are truly great, great players that will live forever. He’s in that class and Michael Jordan is, obviously. He just makes it so much easier for those guys. He’s just an amazing player and frankly I’m thrilled for him because of all the negative things that were said about him as a player and I think he’s rightly proved what kind of player he is and, more importantly, what kind of person he is.”

With the Miami streak now at 24 after the Heat’s 27-point comeback at Cleveland on Wednesday night, West said there’s no reason to think it can’t go on for a long time.

“It may not end. That’s why I think it’s so remarkable. I look at the schedule and I see one team on there that’s a terrific team and obviously that’s the Spurs. I don’t know what game that would be. That would be a game that I would be concerned about, playing in San Antonio and they’re going to have Tony Parker back by then.

“I just think … some nights you’re gonna go out there and you can’t make a shot and it might be all of you and it becomes contagious. But the one thing they’ve got going for them is defensively they can really get after you because of the ability of Wade and particularly LeBron. They’re ballhawks, and when you turn the ball over, it’s going to be a layup. It’s not going to be a jump shot. It’s going to be a layup. Those two guys in particular, if they’re in the open court, you can forget it. They’re going to score or get to the free-throw line.

“I just think it’s going to take a combination of a team that’s shooting the ball well that also has the capability to defend to beat them and obviously a poor shooting night on Miami’s part. But honestly, I haven’t looked at all their schedule, but I see their schedule coming up. There’s gonna be more and more focus on the games and I think it makes the players focus more on trying to achieve the record that everyone said couldn’t be broken. I think they’ve got a great chance to do it myself.”

West, who was also the architect of the “Showtime” L.A. teams of the 1980s and the Kobe-Shaq combo that “3-peated” to start the 21st century, cautions that this year’s Lakers could still be a playoff force if they qualify.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to play them, I know that,” he said. “I think they’d have a chance against anyone.

“I think if the Lakers would have their preference, they probably wouldn’t want to play Denver. I don’t think anyone would want to play them. Denver has proven they can win on the road and they just don’t lose at home.”

He called Memphis “a bunch of pack dogs” and the Grizzlies the toughest match for the Lakers because of their defense and their man in the middle.

“To me, they’ve got the most underrated player in the league on their team in Marc Gasol,” West said. “That guy is really a good player.”

He did not disparage the defending Western Conference champion Thunder, but has questions.

“If you watch Oklahoma City, to me, they don’t look like they’re the same team,” he said. “I think that they’re terrific, but they lose a great player in James Harden, and that’s going to happen to a lot of teams today, and can they make up for the loss of him? I’m not sure.”

West is also not sure who is up to finally ending the Miami streak.

“I look at their schedule and I say, my gosh. And you think to yourself: ‘I don’t know who.’ Unless they just have a horrible, horrible shooting night, I just don’t think those teams are capable of coming close to them.”

Even though it’s been 41 years and even though no other team had gotten closer to his Lakers’ streak than 11, West said he never believed the record was untouchable.

“I never thought that way,” he said. “I think this is what makes sports so intriguing. Is a number out there — (Joe) DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Will anyone ever do that? Football, the Dolphins, undefeated. A lot of people don’t think those things are possible. Well, they are possible.

“Particularly in basketball, I think you get a real unique team and Miami has a unique team. They’ve got great 3-point shooting and they’re never out of a game because of that. Then they’ve got the best player in the game that does all the little things. I’m sure any coach would love to coach him because he does so much.

“I never thought this streak would live forever. No. Not in today’s games… I just think it’s a streak that could very easily be broken this year. I really believe that.”

Heat Have To Be Careful Chasing History


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.