Creating a legacy: Comparing Miami Heat, ’72 Lakers win streaks

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It’s about legacy.

When you talk about the 1972 Lakers 33-game win streak you talk about a team that had been the best in the West for the better part of a decade but had no rings to show for it, and when they put it together that year they dominated the league for a season like few others have.

That kind of legacy — of dominating a season, of dominating an era — is what the 2013 Heat are playing for. It’s one thing their current 27-game win streak can help bring them. Setting a new record would be mentioned as part of this team’s legacy the way we talk about the 72-win Jordan-led Bulls squad. The Lakers absolutely owned that season; that’s the legacy the Heat want.

But when you look at who has been better in their respective streaks you see neither team had it easy. There is no easy way to win 27 in a row. Yet the key to how we will remember the run 15 years from now is how it ends for Miami — how many wins and is there a ring to go with it?

Looking at the numbers one difference stands out — the Lakers won the games in their streak by an average of 16 points a night. They dominated. The Heat are at 11.9, which certainly is impressive in its own right. Only three times in their streak did a team come within six points of the Lakers, the Heat have had that or gone to overtime 9 times. That 16-point differential is insane, it speaks to a level of dominance over their competition that even the Heat on this streak haven’t shown.

The two teams have plenty of things in common, starting with the obvious of three big stars on each — Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich are all Hall of Famers. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be without question; Chris Bosh has an 88 percent chance of getting elected according to Basketball-Reference’s probability estimates (if he gets a few more rings with this Heat side it is pretty much a lock). Both teams also had good fitting role players around their stars — remember Heat president Pat Riley was one of those players for the Lakers, along with Jim McMillan and Happy Hairston (the latter of which averaged better than 20 points a game during the streak). Miami has Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and others that fit their style of play and what they want to do.

The other big similarity: Defense. We know the Heat’s run is built on it — in the last 10-games they are allowing just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA in that time. The Heat are aggressive, forcing turnovers and converting those to easy buckets and monster dunks the other way.

That Lakers team was sixth in the NBA in points per game (in that era certain stats were not kept so it’s impossible to estimate possessions and the stats that come from them). But former Lakers coach Jim Mullaney said that Bill Sharman, who had taken over to coach that team, had “Chamberlain playing like he is Bill Russell.” (Quote from the book “Lakers Glory.”) When Chamberlain wanted to own the defensive end or glass, he could do it.

That Lakers team did have to deal with things the current Heat do not — the Lakers run started during a string of eight games in 10 days (nod to John Schumann at NBA.com). You read that right. It started on a back-to-back-to-back, they had a day off, then had another back-to-back on the road (Chicago and Philadelphia), then one day off to travel back to Los Angeles before another back-to-back-to-back. And five of those eight teams won 47 games or more that season. During their streak, the Lakers had a total of four back-to-back-to-backs.

That said, the Lakers cumulative winning percentage of teams they beat during the streak (.477, measured by records at the end of the season) is pretty much right in line with where the Heat are now.

It’s hard to compare across decades — the 17-team NBA of 1972 was a very different place than today’s NBA. Fewer teams could mean more condensed and deeper teams (although there were 11 teams in the ABA at the time) but there were also no foreign players to speak of at the time to deepen the player pool.

I think someday we’ll look back on the runs as similar in that they showed the team’s dominance over the league that year — if the Heat win a title this spring.

And that is one other difference — the Lakers streak started in November and ended at the hands of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 9. Teams can have letdowns when streaks end — those Lakers lost four of six starting with the Bucks — and getting it over early was a good thing said Jim McMillan, the Lakers starting forward on that team, speaking with Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

“We had a chance to regroup emotionally, mentally, physically,” McMillian said. “We said, ‘OK, we had a good run on the streak and let’s get ready for the championship run.’ [The Heat] are pushing themselves to break this record and not lose. They are not going to have a chance to regroup because next thing you know the playoffs are here.”

The Heat are riding this wave into the playoffs. We’ll see how — or if — the streak impacts their title run.

But someday my guess is we’ll look back at both streaks the same way — a sign of a team dominating the league for a season like few others have.

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener

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Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, especially on this, the real opening night of the NBA with 22 teams in action. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight, that includes a few historic numbers… good and bad.

1) Brad Stevens, Celtics have no answer on how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re getting mentioned in the record books with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something very right. Monday night, the Greek Freak was rolling to the rim and finishing alley-oops over defenders, hitting floaters and leaners in the lane, and generally using his length to get any shot he wanted against the Celtics on his way to a 37-point, 13 rebound night in Boston. The only other Buck to have an opening night of at least 35 and 10? Yup, one Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.

Put a smaller defender on Antetokounmpo and he shoots right over them. Put a bigger defender on him and he goes around them — or just over them too. Brad Stevens tried a lot of things on defense, and while Al Horford had a little first-half success slowing him nobody did all game as he shot 59.1 percent on his way to dropping 37.

Notice all those shots are close to the rim. Antetokounmpo was a ridiculous 10-of-12 at the rim and 12-of-18 in the paint overall, but just 1-of-4 outside the key. It’s easy to say “make him a jump shooter” but good luck finding anyone who can stay in front of him, or that he can’t just finish over. The man was dunking over Aron Baynes, how do you get anyone much bigger in front of him?

Boston was up four points entering the fourth quarter when the second night of a back-to-back seemed to hit them, they scored just 20 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the final frame, 4-of-21 outside the restricted area. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo went off for 16 in the fourth as he ramped up his aggressiveness and Brad Stevens and the Celtics had no answer. Marcus Smart was fiery and got into it with Matthew Dellavedova, that may have exemplified Boston’s spirit, but Celtics looked physically and emotionally worn down by the end. Hard to blame them.

Rough start to the season for Boston, who lost Gordon Hayward just minutes into the opener (he’s out for the season), they fell to the Celtics Tuesday night and now are off to an 0-2 start. They will bounce back, but just now how the team with all these new players thought things would start.

2) Jeremy Lin injures knee and there is “tremendous” concern it is serious. Midway through the fourth quarter against the Pacers, Jeremy Lin drove the lane and finished a layup at the rim that looked ordinary — except when he landed he went to the ground grabbing his knee and did not get back up.

This isn’t good. Neither were the reports during and after the play.

Brooklyn was counting on Lin to help stabilize the point guard position and the backcourt with D'Angelo Russell (who had 30 on the night in a losing effort). If Lin is done for all or most of the season, it’s a huge setback for a team that, while bad, was expected to be a little better than in previous seasons. Remember, the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season unprotected (part of the Kyrie Irving trade from Boston).

• While we’re on the injury front, Boston’s Gordon Hayward underwent surgery on his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia on Wednesday, and according to his agent he is “unlikely” to return this season. Hayward did send a video message to Celtics fans thanking them. Boston will try to move on, but it’s been a difficult and emotional start to the season for the Celtics.

3) Suns’ season opening performance wasn’t just bad, it was the worst ever. The record for worst opening night loss in NBA history belonged to the 1987 Los Angeles Clippers coached by Gene Shue, who were blown out by Denver by 46 points.

No more. That record now belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 — a 48 point loss. The Suns shot 31.5 percent as a team — Devin Booker was 6-of-17 and didn’t hit a three, Eric Bledsoe was sloppy and reckless all night and finished 5-of-18 with five turnovers and three assists, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss combined to go 1-of-10 off the bench. The Phoenix offense was about as in synch as the left shark, and many possessions ended with a terrible shot being jacked up because, well, somebody had to shoot it.

I’d like to say this was a good omen for the Trail Blazers’ defense, but really it’s impossible to judge how good it was against this offense. It was still a win the Blazers will gladly take, Damian Lillard had 24 points while Pat Connaughton came off the bench for 22.

PBT Extra: Bobby Portis punch adds to challenges for Bulls this season

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Nikola Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks due to his concussion and fractured jaw.

Bobby Portis has been suspended for the first eight games of the season for causing those injuries to Mirotic with a punch at practice.

What does this mean for a Bulls locker room that was already going to have to deal with the weight of losing a lot of games.  I get into all these questions in this latest PBT Extra.

It’s going to be a long season in Chicago.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.

Trail Blazers beat Suns by 48, biggest season-opening rout in NBA history

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Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.

More than fine.

Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.

Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):

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The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.