Is Heat's streak more difficult than Lakers'?

March 24, 2013

MIAMI — Pat Riley has said it would be more difficult to have an NBA 33-game winning streak now than it was four decades ago.
LeBron James apparently has joined Riley in that thinking.
After his Miami Heat defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 109-77 Sunday night for their 26th straight victory, James compared the NBA now to how it was to 1971-72, when the Los Angeles Lakers’ won those 33 with Riley as a reserve guard. Riley is now president of the Heat, whose streak is the second-longest in NBA history.
“Back then, the leagues were separate. It wasn’t a full league at that time, the ABA and NBA leagues spread apart,’’ James said about 1971-72. “So some of the greatest players weren’t even in the (NBA) at the time. But … that takes nothing away from what (the Lakers) were able to accomplish; 33 games in a row is 33 games in a row. I don’t care who you’re playing against. Our league is so competitive now. We’ve got 30 teams. We have so many great players. To even have (had winning 33 straight) as a goal for me, it was never even an option.’’
James, who is well-versed in basketball history, is referring to a time when the NBA had 17 teams and the rival ABA had 11. The ABA that season featured future Hall of Famers Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Mel Daniels and Roger Brown.
Riley has talked about a belief in it being harder now to win 33 games than when his Lakers did it. Riley has not been made available by the Heat for interviews during their winning streak, but he spoke about the subject last year with FOX Sports Florida.
“That streak, I don’t think it ever will be broken,’’ Riley said at the time.
Obviously, Riley had no idea that a year later his team would be challenging the Lakers’ mark. He was talking about the modern NBA in general when discussing why he believed the record never would fall.
“I just think the game is so much different now,’’ Riley said last year. “Players today mentally, I don’t think there would be enough discipline to maintain that kind of focus and concentration for so long. There are so many things that distract you. If some team (had) 20 to 25 wins in a row, (players) might say, ‘Heck, let’s get this over with.’ There would be so much scrutiny and so much media coverage, it might be, ‘Let’s just end this and get on with normalcy.’ I can’t see it happening (that the Lakers’ record ever would be broken).’’
Riley said last year it would be harder for a team to win so many consecutive games now due to pressures in a different era of the media.
“The media (in 1971-72), the only guys were the beat writers and they traveled with you on commercial airlines,’’ Riley said. “They were sort of like friends (to the players). There was no Internet, no tweeting, no blogs.’’
Nevertheless, it wasn’t as if other teams had been running off gigantic streaks back then. The Lakers destroyed the record of 20 that had been set the previous season by Milwaukee.
During the streak, the Lakers’ average margin of victory was 16.0 points. They won 23 games by 10 or more points, including eight by 20 or more.
The Lakers, who finished with a then NBA-record 69-13 regular-season mark and cruised to the title, did face some formidable foes during their streak. They beat Boston (56-26) and Golden State (51-31) three times each and Milwaukee (63-19) and Chicago (57-25) once apiece. The Bucks eventually ended the streak with a 120-104 win on Jan. 9, 1972.
However, as James might note, the Lakers that season didn’t have to play the Kentucky Colonels or the Indiana Pacers. The Colonels, with the intimidating front line of Gilmore and Issel, went an ABA-record 68-16 during the regular season. Yet they didn’t even claim the ABA championship trophy, that going to the Pacers, featuring Daniels and Brown.
But this is a high-tech era. One supposes a computer could replay 1971-72 to see the Lakers still would have won 33 straight had ABA teams been on the schedule.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at or on Twitter @christomasson.