Phil Jackson is in mid-season mind games form.
People have started asking if the 8-0 Lakers could win 72 games — they’ve looked pretty dominant and they don’t even have Andrew Bynum in the fold yet.
It’s not going to happen, we all know it and Phil Jackson has said so before. But when asked again today, he took the chance to put a little more heat on the Heat, as Dave McMenamin at ESPNLosAngeles reports.
“It’s not going to happen [for us],” Jackson said about the 70-win talk surrounding his team after the Lakers’ shootaround Thursday morning in preparation for their game against the Denver Nuggets. “The schedule’s too tough. The travel is extenuating in the Western Conference, there’s very difficult time zone changes that you go through and all the stuff that happens. And that’s disregarding the idea that you can play with all your players for the rest of the season.
“Everything has to just break perfect for that to happen, plus the team has to be very, very resilient and very, very capable of filling in for one another at multiple positions….”
“I think this Miami team could.”
“They’re talented enough to do that,” he continued. “They may not be deep enough quite yet or have all their persons in place and teamwork just down, but if they stay together, they have a good chance. They have a very talented team.”
If you think that wasn’t thrown in there to just add a little more pressure to the Heat, you haven’t been watching Jackson the last couple decades. He lives for little digs like that, little things to try and plant in the Heat’s mind. Although, in this case, we’re all kind of thinking it. Not this year, but maybe if they get better role players….
Before the season the talk was about the Heat and 72 wins, with everybody sane saying it wouldn’t happen and wasn’t worth the effort. But that never stops the talk.
But the Lakers? They are off to a 7-0 start. They look deeper, they have a healthy Kobe Bryant and a rested Pau Gasol and an inspired Lamar Odom. And they haven’t even gotten Andrew Bynum in the fold yet.
Why not the Lakers and 72 wins? Because Phil Jackson isn’t convinced these Lakers play good enough defense, for one. Also, he’s been down that road and knows a lot of things have to fall your way. Here is his quote from via the Daily News.
“In ’92, after the first championship (with the Bulls), I think we’re 46-3 or 43-6, something like that around the All-Star break,” Jackson recalled. “The owner called me up and said, ‘I hope you’re not trying to win the most games ever won in one season.’
“And I said, ‘Well, we have a lot of depth. We have a young team. I’m not trying to wear them out. We’re just trying to use momentum and win games.’
“That team ended up winning 67 games. They had a little letdown at the end of the season. You get a feel like teams know how to win games and know how to turn it on at the end. They know how to expend the right amount of energy to win a ballgame.
“That really happened with the team in ’95-96. They knew how to blow teams out and put them away in the early part of the second period. Everything kind of fell into place for us, also.
“We went on a long road trip and three of the five teams or eight teams we played on that road trip had injuries to players who were important players. We won seven out of eight games on that road trip. Things like that happened.”
There you go. I’m not going to disagree with Phil Jackson.
No doubt the Heat are going to be good. Very good. But expectations some comparisons and expectations are getting a little ridiculous.
Stan Van Gundy is happy to feed the mania, as he did with Dan LeBatard on 790 the Ticket in Miami:
“If I look at what the Bulls did winning 72 games and I look at the Heat roster, I am going to tell you that the Heat roster is better than any roster that Michael Jordan played with the Bulls. I don’t think that people predicting them breaking the win total and being in the 70s and the whole thing, I don’t think those are expectations that are out of line based on their roster… Dwyane Wade is certainly, in my opinion anyway, as good as he was, is better than Scottie Pippen. Chris Bosh is better than Toni Kukoc. Mike Miller is every bit as good a shooter as (John) Paxson or (Steve) Kerr or anybody they put there. Plus, he’s 6′8″. If you start going down the list, I don’t think there is any question that the roster the Heat have is as talented a roster if not more so as any roster there has ever been in the NBA.”
Van Gundy is a pretty straight shooter, he says what he thinks.
But he also gets the game. The Heat are a top rival for Van Gundy’s Magic in the East and one way to knock them down a peg is to set the expectations for them so unrealistically high that even a very good season is perceived as a failure. Saying they will win 72 their first season together is way too high a bar (remember how long those Bulls had been together when they did it, and it was the second year after a diluting league expansion).
This is one way to start injecting some doubt into a team — have everyone around them saying they are not as good as they should be.
It may not work, but it’s a smart strategy for Van Gundy to try.