Lakers Countdown: At #2…

J.M. Poulard —  September 2, 2012

One could argue that the Lakers are the NBA’s marquee franchise given their rich history, tradition, glamour, superstars as well as their multiple championships.

The Minneapolis Lakers may have been the league’s first ever dynasty, but even after moving to Los Angeles and seeing the roster change through the years, the franchise eventually bounced back and became a dynasty once again by the 1980s and also during the 2000s.

Mind you, there was once upon a time where many felt as though the Lakers were doomed to falter with the chips on the line despite their star studded roster given their multiple defeats in the NBA Finals.

Eventually, the idea that the franchise could be a perennial disappointment on the grandest stage would become almost ludicrous as the team would reach new heights all the while providing a brand of drama and excitement along the way that only perhaps the 2012 NBA champion Miami Heat could replicate.

However, before the Los Angeles Lakers could become a league powerhouse for years to come, they would need to secure their first title in the city of angels.

Clocking in at the second spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams…

The 1971-72 Lakers

During the 1971 playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers were soundly defeated by a Milwaukee Bucks (66-16) team that many argued was one of the best ever in the history of professional basketball. The Bucks were led by perhaps the best guard of his generation as well as the best weapon in the sport in Lewis Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

A Lakers team loaded with star power bowed out to the eventual champs and thus made changes in the off-season.

They hired former Celtics great Bill Sharman to coach the team with the hope that he could use his coaching experience — won the ABA title as a head coach in 1971 with the Utah Stars — coupled with his knowledge of the game from a players perspective — he helped the Boston Celtics win four championships — to get the Lakers to play up to their potential and finally claim the championship trophy.

Sharman made his mark very early with the team with the requests he made from his players. Jerry West would play point guard while Gail Goodrich would play without the ball. The adjustment made for a high scoring backcourt, but also a guard tandem that shared the wealth with their teammates. In addition, Wilt Chamberlain would now be asked to cede the scoring duties to his teammates and instead concentrate on defending, rebounding and getting the fast break going with his outlet passes.

The Big Dipper had the lowest scoring season of his career at that point, averaging 14.8 points per game. Sharman’s decision to make Chamberlain more of a defensive presence stemmed from his Celtics background, as he essentially asked Wilt to become the Western Conference’s version of Bill Russell, and he obliged by reducing his point totals and leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage.

The head coach’s last order of business was to get Elgin Baylor to come off the bench and to promote Jim McMillian to the starting lineup to better complement the starters. Baylor instead chose to retire, since he felt he could no longer perform like he once had due to injury.

And just like, after pulling all the strings and setting things into motion, the Los Angeles Lakers went on a streak. A huge one.

On November 5th, 1971, the Lakers defeated the Baltimore Bullets 110-104. Bill Sharman’s team wouldn’t lose again until January 7th, 1972.

For those counting at home, the 1971-72 Lakers were undefeated for two whole months. The Lake Show managed to win an NBA record 33 games in a row, a record that still stands to this day. As impressive as the string of victories were, their dominance as a unit was reflected in how they defeated teams.

During the 33-game stretch, the Lakers defeated their opponents by 15.7 points, and only won six games by less than double digits. Think about that for moment, the 1971-72 Lakers were so good for two months that save for six games, every single outcome was a blowout or close to it.

Although the win streak ended at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in January, the Lakers still managed a couple of other modest win streaks stretching out to four games (once), five games (once) and eight games (twice).

The regular season was one for the history books as the Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with an unprecedented 69-13 record, breaking the record of the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers that went 68-13 with Wilt Chamberlain manning the pivot for them.

In addition to their impressive regular season record, the Lakers led the league in scoring and sported an average scoring margin of plus-12.3 points.

It set the stage for the postseason where the Forum tenants faced off against the Chicago Bulls (57-25) who were for all intents and purposes outmatched. One would expect a 57-win team to be one of the best in the league, and yet they barely truly bothered the Lakers, falling at their hands in four games by an average of 10 points.

The Chicago sweep set up a rematch with the Milwaukee Bucks.

With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing some of the best basketball of his young career, the Bucks blew out the Lakers off their home court in Game 1 by 21 points. Jerry West and company bounced back and won the next two games and to take a 2-1 series lead; only to see Milwaukee even things up in Game 4 with a 26-point win.

The Lakers managed to go back to the Forum and won a pivotal Game 5 in a rout as Oscar Robertson struggled to play to his usual standards due to injury. With a chance to close out the series in Game 6, the Lakers did just that, winning by the narrowest of margins to secure a trip to the NBA Finals.

Surprisingly, the Bucks lost the series in six games despite outscoring the Lakers by 14 points thanks to a pair of blowout victories while the Lakers won Games 2, 3 and 6 by a total of eight points.

In order to secure their first title since moving to Los Angeles, the Lakers would need to take out the New York Knicks (48-34).

The NBA Finals initially had the same feel as the Western Conference Finals as the Knickerbockers blew out the Lakers in Game 1 in Los Angeles.

With Jerry West stuck in a woeful shooting slump, Sharman decided to go to the imposing Chamberlain who was still an ultra effective scorer.

With Wilt asserting himself on the block and patrolling the paint defensively, the Lakers won the next four games and secured the first and only title of Jerry West’s illustrious career. Chamberlain won the Finals MVP award thanks to impressive averages of 19.2 points per game and 23.2 rebounds per game on 60 percent field goal shooting in five games in the title round.

The ’72 Lakers were one of the most dominant teams the NBA has ever seen as evidenced by their record setting regular season that was punctuated with a championship at season’s end.

If there is one tiny blemish for this team, and really it’s nitpicking; but we have to mention their relatively low plus-3.2 average scoring margin for the playoffs. This is obviously a direct result of the blowout losses at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks (two such defeats) and New York Knicks (Game 1 of the NBA Finals); which happen to be their only defeats of the 1972 postseason run.

Sharman led his unit to a 12-3 playoff record as well as six double-digit playoff wins and overall record of 81-16 when we combine the regular season with the playoffs. The ’72 Lakers are both statistically and also according to the eye test one of the best teams in the history of basketball and come in second in our Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown.

For a fairly long stretch, this team was the standard by which every Lakers championship team was measured up against and rightfully so…

Until another team dethroned them…

J.M. Poulard

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19 responses to Lakers Countdown: At #2…

  1. Great team and a great era. My only regret is that Elgin Baylor did not get to share in the glory after losing to Boston so many times. Elgin was my favorite Laker of all time until Kobe came along. Tick Tock (Mr. Baylor’s nickname) is the reason a young teenager from New York became a lifelong Lakers’ fan.

    West and Goodrich were superb that year. Chamberlain and Harold “Happy” Hairston controlled the boards and the paint and Jim McMillan, who replaced Baylor in the starting lineup, ran the floor brilliantly and made collapsing defenses pay with his deadeye outside shooting. Jim was also a rugged defender.

    The thing I remember most about that team is that they always seemed able to create a good shot on every possession. Their teamwork was superb. And it was most gratifying to see Jerry West finally get a much deserved championship ring.

  2. i had to sneak out of my room in the middle of the night to watch that finals series(i was only ten).

    the best team i ever saw…

    you kids just don’t know how great Wilt was. people always called him selfish, but in reality the stars only aligned a couple of times for him. he only had a good cast a few times, and injuries robbed him of a number of chances, especially with the Lakers. Wilt dominated in a way that Jordan or Jabbar could never do. by the time he got to LA he was a shell of what he had been because of knee injuries(reconstructive surgery wasn’t the same back then). and still he put up impressive numbers. even in his final season with the Lakers he averaged almost 20 rebound a game, bad knees and all.

    how priviledged Lakers fans have been to see Wilt, West, Baylor, Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Goodrich, Shaq, Kobe(!) and now Dwight and Nash!

  3. If the 71-72 Lakers is the #2, the #1 can only be…

    The 2012-2013 Lakers!!

  4. In this era of statistics Wilt would simply inundate all other NBA players in history. He was that dominant.

    If you watched his games he simply was the most visible player out there and, if both were in their prime, I don’t think Jordan could overtake him.

    It is a shame ESPN only came along in the 80’s, because there were a number of really great and dominant players we simply don’t get to see – Wilt being first among them. All this from someone who watched Kareem from the first time he put on a uniform as a freshman at UCLA. If Kareem hadn’t started out as a Buck he would have to be the greatest Laker of them all – Magic, West, Elgin, Kobe, Shaq, and Wilt’s limited time here included.

    There was some really great basketball played before ESPN. It is just a shame people have to hear it from others like me and not be able to see it for themselves.

  5. @#2…..

    mud, one very underrated aspect of Wilt’s game was his speed. He was a track athlete in high school. And a very good one, at that. And you make a very good point that he was not a selfish player. If memory serves, Wilt led the league in assists one year, as a center! If anything, he wasn’t selfish enough.

  6. They wouldn’t have won without coach Bill Sharman’s tea-with-honey …. that was the secret ingredient :-) (perhaps the forerunner of PJ’s mediation)…

    @#5 Kenny T: Yes, Wilt led the league in assists in the ’67-68 season* with 702 (8.6 average).

    I believe he’s the only player ever to once lead the league in each of the 3 major categories (rebounds and points lots of times; assists once). Though never in the sameyear (but damn near in that ’68, he led assists and rebounds…but “only” 3rd in points). Almost a triple crown, sorta (at least over time).

    * In that season, “leader” was based on gross, total assists, not average, so he won even though he did not have the highest average

  7. This team was before my time, but I did read Charle Rosen’s book on them, “The Pivotal Season.” Rosen’s portrtait of Chamberlain is not flattering in some ways. Rosen suggests that 72 Lakers in some ways paved the way for the NBA a we know it now.

  8. typos:

    Charley
    portrait
    as

    Didn’t see in time to edit-sorry.

  9. Not before my time rr – what can I say? – I am older than I look : ) I was a young fan. And wore #44 throughout my own career in honor of West. This team did pave the way for modern basketball. Most of the history prior to this is truly a different sport which is barely past peach baskets and jump balls after every made hoop. The Celtics are like the Bears of the NFL or Yale of NCAA football. Distant memories. We dominate the modern era. The 2 series where the Lakers went up against the Bucks ushered in the new era. Link below is one of the most famous photos in NBA history. Check it out: Wilt, Jerry, Gail, Happy and Jim starting the break against Big Lou, Oscar, Bobby D, and Lucius Allen at the Forum. Incredible.

    http://siphotos.tumblr.com/post/11662332134/lakers-guard-jerry-west-leads-a-fast-break-as-wilt

  10. Magic Phil #3, that’s the best laugh I’ve had all week! Thanks.

    I think that Kareem, because of his quiet nature and demand for privacy, hasn’t been celebrated as much as he deserves by the NBA. But then I look at the obscene neglect of The Big O, Oscar Robertson, by the league and just have to shake my head. This is a huge injustice to one of the all time greats.

  11. @10 – You’re welcome. That’s the idea.

    And if you’re talking about injustice, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor are names that MUST be in the discussion.

    And, btw, why Robert Horry was not in the mix for the HOF? 7 rings? are you kidding me?

  12. Thanks to mud and Craig and the others who lived through this era for their insight. For those of us who didn’t, here’s some glimpses:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J0ZbUk4fXk&playnext=1&list=PLF396B0DC9763333

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHskN2mt-Y0&playnext=1&list=PLF396B0DC97633336&feature=results_video

  13. Magic Phil,
    The HOF – thank goodness – isn’t based on number of rings. It is based on your body of work and people like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone belong in this place, even though they didn’t win a ring. Robert Horry was always a role player and never carried a club on his shoulders. A very good role player, maybe, but still the HOF is rarely reserved for role players unless they somehow changed the game.

    Body of work isn’t simply a total of your statistics, or Gale Sayers might not be in the NFL HOF – injured too soon in his career. Or how about Sandy Kofax – he only had about 6 great years, but what years they were.

  14. In my mind, Horry deserves a shot at the Hall of Fame mostly because he did leave his mark on just about every ring he won.

    Still, I agree that he was more or less a role player and probably not likely to get in unless he puts some other sort of work post-retirement that advances basketball in some way.

  15. Nice vids, snoopy.

    Aside from the beautiful basketball, one particular play stood out to me: Gail Goodrich called for a travel and there was barely any retort. Superstars of this day and age would go nuts if they were called for traveling–shoot, I couldn’t even remember the last time I heard of a superstar even getting called for traveling.

  16. Thanks snoopy for the videos, I only saw a few games live at the Great Western Forum (many more concerts though), it is a great part of Laker history.

  17. @#12:

    Thanks for the links to the vids. The lack of clutching and grabbing in the post back then really stands out to me. Big difference from today’s game. That’s the main reason that i don’t buy into the popular argument that it is easier to score in today’s NBA. Modern era players are allowed a heck of a lot more contact off the ball. And in those days prior to the adoption of the three point line, teams sought to get the ball as close to the basket as possible for the best shot. A very simple, effective style of play. Contrast that to what we saw in the recent Olympics, where the greatest players in the world (Team USA) relied so heavily on the 3 pointer to score. The nature of the game has changed tremendously over the years.

  18. Greatest team ever…without a doubt!!!
    Ran off 33 in a row baby!!!

    We know about Wilt and West but people forget how good Gail Goodrich was….inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996. He was that good!!!