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The Other Guys Countdown

J.M. Poulard —  September 25, 2012

In case you missed the opening post of this series, the FB&G panel recently sat down and voted on the best role players in Lakers history. The details can be found here on the collective thought process of the panel as well as the first player in our top 10 countdown.

Now we move on to our next man up.

When we recall meaningful role players, we usually have a multitude of memories of how they contributed to a successful team; they did the little things but also had times in which they came up big because their teammates needed it.

That’s usually how it goes, and yet our next player may very well challenge that notion.

The ninth best role player in Lakers’ history…

Rick Fox

Fox started his NBA career as a member of the Boston Celtics and spent six seasons on the east coast playing for a decent team that eventually became a perennial loser. Eventually, he packed his bags and headed out west to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

In retrospect, it’s coincidental and yet both weird that the former Tar Heel played for only two teams in his career; and they happened to be the most storied franchises in the NBA.

Fox left Boston and joined Los Angeles hoping to be part of the solution that helped an immensely talented Lakers team turn things around and compete for a title. Instead, he joined a squad that was seemingly dysfunctional given the egos on the team.

The Lakers had Elden Campbell, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and a young Kobe Bryant but just could not avoid getting swept in the postseason. Even worse, a team that many thought should reach the title round every single season just could not figure out how to get there.

One thing was for sure at the time though, Fox might not have been a huge part of the team, but he was definitely part of the solution.

Players were moved, coaches were brought in and out and eventually Phil Jackson came to town to bring a stabilizing influence over the team starting in the 1999-00 season.

Rick Fox’s role under Jackson was to come off the bench, play solid defense, take open shots, feed the post, get out in transition and essentially play to his capabilities.

The North Carolina product took his role a step further, even at times playing the role of enforcer for a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Shaquille O’Neal.

Indeed, the former Tar Heel played physical defense, hit players after the whistle, slapped the ball out of the hands of opponents even after calls were made by officials, trash talked and found ways to get inside the heads of opposing players. Fox was an instigator, but he was also a solid role player.

With Fox backing up Glen Rice during the 1999-00 season, the Lakers won 67 games, struggled a little during the postseason but managed to win the group’s first title.

Glen Rice was shipped out of town after the 2000 playoffs, which meant that Rick Fox had become the starter for the Lakers.

The 2000-01 season was one of turmoil for the Lakers as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal fought for control of the team but role players such as Fox still managed to play to their strengths throughout the Bryant-O’Neal rift. The Lakers’ starting small forward saw more minutes that season and thus increased his scoring and rebounding.

Also, with more playing time alongside the starters, Rick Fox had more opportunities to get repetition in the triangle offense and thus had a better understanding of where to get his shots from. Consequently, he improved his field goal percentage, going from a poor 41.4 percent to a 44.4 percent mark.

By the time the playoffs started, the 2001 Lakers morphed into the third best Los Angeles Lakers team of all time, going 15-1 in the playoffs and destroying all of their opponents on their way to the title.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal enjoyed arguably their best collective postseason together that year, but they were also aided by their role players that rose to the occasion whenever the situation called for it.

And that’s what’s particularly tricky about Rick Fox: he played up to par, played to his strengths and made several contributions but none of them truly stood out; unless we count the amount of times he agitated opponents.

Seriously, by the time the Lakers hit their stride in the playoffs, Rick Fox complemented the superstars with timely shooting, a couple of unimpeded drives to the basket as a result of double teams and some solid perimeter defense.

If the 2001 playoffs failed to properly hammer this point home, the 2002 postseason highlighted this perfectly.

After helping the Lakers win back-to-back titles, Rick Fox was not only a starter on a championship team, but an integral piece to the championship puzzle. He played well off of his superstar teammates and even asserted himself offensively at times to help take pressure off the more heralded players on the team.

The box score often failed to accurately capture Fox’s contributions because so many of them came in the form of deflections, charges taken, box outs and the pass that led to the pass that set up an assist. Hence, it’s somewhat difficult to find one game that encompasses the type of player that Rick Fox was for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Difficult, but not impossible.

With Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals scheduled to be played in Sacramento, many thought that the Kings would dethrone the defending champions.

The Kings were deeper, younger, more athletic and thus better, as the story went.

The Lakers on the other hand had arguably the two best players in the league as well as championship experience and that essentially sealed the fate of the Sacramento Kings.

The home team bricked free throws, struggled to execute and get good looks at the basket late in the game, while the Lakers looked like the fresher team, unbothered by the pressure and weight of the moment.

Rick Fox was at his best in a Lakers uniform that day, scoring 13 points, snatching 14 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in 48 minutes of playing time. The North Carolina product was all over the court, and yet never looked as though he was playing above his customary level of basketball talent.

And in addition, although Peja Stojakovic had been hampered by an ankle injury during the playoffs, he had still averaged 21.2 points per game on 48.4 percent field goal shooting during the regular season and was the Kings second option on offense. In the series against the Lakers mind you, Rick Fox played physical and smothering defense on him, holding him to a mere 6.7 points per game on 20.7 percent field goal shooting. His ankle might have been problematic, but so too was the Lakers forward.

That victory over the Kings propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals where they swept the New Jersey Nets and completed the ever rare — this is the most recent occurrence of this in the NBA — three-peat.

Fox played the role of occasional scorer, shooter, defender and rebounder at times, but his best role by far with the team was that of winner.

The Other Guys

J.M. Poulard —  September 18, 2012

Professional sports are fun and yet so tricky given all of the never ending debates that stem from them. Indeed, arguments usually come in the form of “Kobe or Magic is better than so and so because…”and from there others chime in and add fuel to the fire by adding or simply refuting points with in depth analysis; or perhaps outlandish statements.

The juiciest ammunition that fans and media members alike love to use when comparing greats is the amount of championships won by the players being compared. It’s one way to go about hammering a point home, but not necessarily the best.

Why?

Because simply comparing the amount of titles between two great players from different eras or even perhaps the same completely trivializes the contributions of role players.

And make no mistake, they matter. If evidence is needed, think back to the 2012 NBA Finals, where players such as Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller all played a huge part in the Heat winning the title.

Far too often, we throw a lot of praise and admiration at the feet of superstars and fail to recognize just how important the “other guys” are…

Until today.

The Forum Blue and Gold staff went back and looked at every role player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise and voted for all of them in order to rank the 10 best role players in the rich history of the franchise.

Mind you, before we could get to voting, it was important that we decide early on what we meant by role player. For instance, in the eyes of some, Pau Gasol and Jamal Wilkes could fit the description of one, while others might completely disagree. So we figured, anyone that could potentially make the list of top 20 Lakers ever had to absolutely be off the list of role players. So guys like Worthy, Goodrich, Gasol and the like had no shot of making our rankings.

With that idea firmly entrenched, we voted and came up with a list of 10 role players that we felt were the best at being just that during their time with Lakers franchise.

Before beginning the countdown, let’s quickly run through the players that almost made the cut and thus can be cited as being honorable mention: Mychal Thompson, Nick Van Exel, Metta World Peace, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw, Vlade Divac and Happy Hairston.

And thus our countdown begins…

10. A.C. Green

A.C. Green joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie and played just a shade under 19 minutes per game and came off the bench to give the team some rebounding and frontcourt versatility. Indeed, the 6’9’’ power forward could run the floor, defend in open space as well as on the interior and finish around the basket when given opportunities.

It wasn’t long before Green was starting for the Lakers in his second season (1986-87 season) at power forward on the greatest Los Angeles Lakers team in franchise history. On a team with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, it’s easy to take Green for granted but truthfully he was essential to the team’s success.

Green’s contributions may not have stood out given that they did not come in the form of scoring or gaudy rebounding figures, but his defense was a big part of what made the Lakers — an offensive juggernaut — a team capable of getting key stops and speed up the tempo to run the opponent off the floor.

The Oregon State product had quick feet for his size and thus could do two things that most modern NBA big men struggle to do today: defend pick-and-rolls by hedging or even switching onto smaller defenders and deter them from going to the basket; and defend areas of the court in a half-court trap.

Pat Riley employed a zone trap that he loved to use to force opposing teams to use all of the shot clock, but also to change the dynamic of the offense of his opponent given that some teams occasionally got excited and rushed their possessions and took low percentage shots or simply turned the ball over, which fed the Showtime fast break.

Consequently, whenever Kareem went to the bench, Riley loved to employ his zone trap with Green playing a prominent role in it given that he was an effective helper in the scheme, but also because he recovered and defended most positions should the trap get broken and players had to scatter back to defend whichever man was open.

With Green on board, the Lakers won two NBA titles and made three NBA Finals appearances in the Magic Johnson era.

After the superstar guard retired, Green eventually left the Lakers a couple of seasons later but then returned at age 36 for one final run with the purple and gold. During the 1999-00 season, the 6’9’’ big man split time with Robert Horry at the power forward position and defended arguably the deepest position in the Western Conference  — Chris Webber, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett all played at high level in the conference that season — and found ways to make it work.

A.C. Green was still a solid rebounder although he was less athletic and couldn’t cover as much ground defensively as he had done prior. Nonetheless, his contributions on defense as well as his ability to blend into the triple-post offense helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the first of many titles in the Shaquille O’Neal era.

Consider this: A.C. Green was part of championship teams with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and then later on with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

And yet, perhaps the most impressive tidbit about the Oregon State product’s stint with the Lakers is that he only played nine seasons total with the franchise and yet shows up in the team’s record books because he suited up for almost every Lakers game. Indeed, in his time in L.A., he missed a total of three games. That’s it.

Consequently, he is 10th all time in franchise history in games played (735 games), 10th in steals (657 steals), eighth in total rebounds (5,632 total rebounds), sixth in defensive rebounds (3,543 defensive rebounds) and second in offensive rebounds (2,089 offensive rebounds).

A.C. Green never came close to being an NBA superstar, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, he played his part as a defender and occasional offensive contributor and helped the Lakers win three titles because he helped complete the championship puzzle.

Lakers Countdown: At #1…

J.M. Poulard —  September 6, 2012

As evidenced by our Lakers title team countdown, the franchise has seen its fair share of terrific teams as well as some magical seasons that its fans will be hard pressed to forget. Indeed, since moving to Los Angeles, the franchise has captured the NBA title eleven times and the FB&G panel voted in order to rank these teams and find out which one was truly the greatest Los Angeles Lakers team of all time.

Before we delve into the team that made it to the top spot, here’s a chance for some of you to review the previous teams if you missed the start of our countdown:

11. The 2001-02 Lakers

10. The 2008-09 Lakers

9. The 2009-10 Lakers

8. The 1999-00 Lakers

7. The 1981-82 Lakers

6. The 1979-80 Lakers

5. The 1987-88 Lakers

4. The 1984-85 Lakers

3. The 2000-01 Lakers

2. The 1971-72 Lakers

And without further ado, as voted by the FB&G panel, the greatest Los Angeles Lakers team of all time…

The 1986-87 Lakers

In June 1985, the Lakers finally conquered their demons and defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals and won the title, finally getting some redemption after losing at their hands the season prior with the championship hanging in the balance.

With the ghosts of the past no longer an issue, many wondered if the Lakers could repeat and win the title once again at the conclusion of the 1985-86 season.

Instead, the Los Angeles Lakers faltered in the first round of the 1986 playoffs against the Houston Rockets while the Boston Celtics won the world championship and earned the title of best basketball team ever.

Although, other teams still enter the discussion, such as the ’71 Bucks, ’72 Lakers and the ’96 Bulls to name a few, many still believe today that the ’86 Celtics are the greatest professional basketball team ever assembled.

Given that Magic Johnson has stated on the record that he measured himself against Larry Bird, the idea that the former Sycamore and his teammates could earn such praise must have annoyed him.

Coincidentally enough, at the end of the Lakers 1986 playoff run, Pat Riley came to the conclusion that it was time to turn the team over to his superstar guard.

The Lakers had always been Showtime under Riles, but the first option had always been Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mind you, things needed to change for the betterment of the team.

With Abdul-Jabbar now 39 years old, it was important to save his legs during the regular season, but it was also incredibly hard to ignore that Magic Johnson was a stud scorer waiting for his chance to show off his skills and James Worthy’s offensive repertoire had to be showcased more given how effective it was. And just for good measure, the Lakers also had a solid shooting guard in Byron Scott that knew what to do with the ball when it went his way.

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer wasn’t being forgotten, he was simply going down a few notches in terms of the team’s pecking order. Make no mistake though, he was still an integral part to the team’s success.

The Lakers in the Showtime era had always been a great offense, but the transition to a more Magic oriented offense combined with the improvement of their wing players made them an offensive juggernaut. They beat teams in transition, in the half-court, in the paint, from 3-point range, from midrange and from the post. There was nothing that defenses could do to stop or limit the damage; the best teams could do was hope to stay close by putting up enough points.

The 1986-87 Lakers boasted the best offensive efficiency in the league and used it to manufacture a couple of modest win streaks. Indeed, they opened up the season with nine victories in a row, then closed out December and opened up January with an eight-game stretch without a loss and then went on a 10-game win streak in early March and then got another one started at the end of the month going well into April that would last 11 games.

The Lakers had a fantastic offense, but they also possessed the seventh best defensive efficiency in the league, which made an explosive combination for opponents.

The Lakers had the athletes to aggressively defend on the perimeter but they also had tough interior defenders in A.C. Green, Kurt Rambis and Mychal Thompson to help out their wing players and also limit the productivity of opposing big men. And just for good measure, the team had a terrific combination of veterans and old players, thus they had the ability to apply full-court pressure and also employ a terrific half-court zone trap that often flummoxed opponents.

Put it all of that together, and the purple and gold finished the regular season by winning 21 out their final 24 games on their way to a 65-17 record (tops in the league) and an average scoring margin of plus-9.3; spearheaded by league MVP Magic Johnson.

As good as the regular season performance was, the title of best team ever had to be earned during the postseason.

Los Angeles opened the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets (37-45) and completely took them apart in three games. In a series that the Nuggets probably hope all footage has been destroyed, the Lakers’ lowest scoring output in the series was 128 points in Game 1 and furthermore, Pat Riley’s team outscored Denver by an average of 27.3 points per game during the series. Needless to say, the Nuggets never had a chance.

In the second round, the Lakers faced off against the Golden State Warriors (42-40) and took them out rather easily in five games. Their lone defeat against the Dubs (Game 4) came as product of a historical scoring burst that is now simply referred to as the Sleepy Floyd game. Floyd torched L.A. for 39 second half points, with 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter while being guarded by the Defensive Player of the Year in Michael Cooper. Read that sentence again, the Lakers lost a game in which a player put up almost 30 points in one quarter against the best defensive player in the NBA; let’s just say the odds of that one happening ever again are pretty slim.

Nonetheless, the Lakers “regrouped” in Game 5, and defeated the Warriors by double digits. Not too coincidentally, their average scoring margin during the series was a healthy plus-10.6.

The victory against GSW set up a Western Conference Finals against the Seattle Supersonics (39-43) that ended up being another cakewalk for the Lakers. They swept the Sonics and won every game by an average of 11.3 points to punch their ticket for a finals dance with the Boston Celtics (59-23).

The Los Angeles Lakers opened the NBA Finals at the Forum by winning the first two games by an average of 16 points. The series then shifted over to Boston for Game 3 where the Celtics capitalized on the brilliant efforts of Larry Bird (30 points, 12 rebounds), Kevin McHale (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Dennis Johnson (26 points, seven rebounds) on their way to a six-point win.

With L.A. leading the series 2-1, Game 4 became a pivotal contest given that a Lakers victory would give them a stranglehold on the NBA Finals.

With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott struggling from the field in the fourth game of the NBA Finals, Magic Johnson once again shifted into scorer mode and gave the Celtics nightmares by scoring 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting. The superstar guard was unstoppable as usual but he provided the exclamation point on this night by hitting the game winning hook shot over the outstretched arms of Kevin McHale. Johnson’s final scoring play of the game would lead many to dub this particular contest as the Junior Skyhook game (if you click on the link, scroll to the bottom of the page to get the play-by-play of the final 2:09 minutes of the game).

With a chokehold on the series, the Lakers lost Game 5 at the Garden but flew back to Los Angeles and defeated the Celtics in Game 6 to clinch the championship.

Magic Johnson was named the NBA Finals MVP on the strength of his 26.6 points per game, 13 assists per game, 8 rebounds per game and 2.3 steals per game on 54.1 percent field goal shooting in six finals games.

The ’87 Lakers finished their run with a 15-3 playoff record as well as a plus-11.4 average scoring margin during the postseason. The regular season performance combined with the postseason play makes them unquestionably the best Lakers title since moving to Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, one can’t help but take notice of their Western Conference opponents; and how mediocre they were. Indeed, their toughest conference foe by virtue of record was the Golden State Warriors and they only won 42 games that season; and thus the Lakers’ record in the west can on the surface seem like fool’s gold.

But once we factor in the point differential, it paints a different picture.

We can’t fault the ’87 Lakers for playing awful opponents during the playoffs, but we can fault them for not taking care of business. And the truth is, they did. During their run in the Western Conference playoffs, the Lakers averaged 123 points per game, and had an impressive average scoring margin of plus-14.8.

In addition, Riley’s troops won postseason games against conference opponents by 16.8 points, which is what one would expect a dominant team to do at the expense of teams with inferior talent.

And just for good measure, their four wins against the Celtics in the NBA Finals came by an average of 11.5 points. Thus, they may have faced a string of weak teams heading into the championship round, but they dismantled those teams and then managed to defeat a team that many had viewed the previous season as the greatest of all time in six games with each victory coming on average by double digits.

Although it’s debatable if the ’87 Lakers belong in the conversation of greatest teams of all time — and they probably do — given their superb play, the FB&G panel unanimously voted this unit as the greatest Los Angeles Lakers team ever.

And it’s now obvious why.

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…

Lakers Countdown: At #3…

J.M. Poulard —  August 29, 2012

The NBA has seen its fair share of dominant guard and center tandems that managed to reach the mountaintop. Indeed, Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain and perhaps the most famous one, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were not only great pairings, but they made their teams great and helped them win championships.

Consequently, the idea of putting a do it all guard next to a dominant center has always made perfect basketball sense given what the players could for each other, although one group would lead many to question if their union would ever truly be harmonious.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant will forever be linked to one another given their accomplishments as well as their public disagreements. But make no mistake, they could at times complete each other as teammates like very few have done in the history of basketball.

Clocking in at the third spot in our Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers

With Phil Jackson joining the franchise in 1999, many assumed that the Lakers would finally get a chance to fulfill their true potential and win a championship with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way.

And although the team faced some tough playoffs tests during the 2000 playoffs, they not only delivered, but they were good enough for the FB&G panel to vote them in as the eighth best L.A. Lakers title team.

Considering the purple and gold were armed with the most dominant player in the league and a superstar guard in the making, it only made sense to assume that these Lakers would become a dynasty.

However, they would have to do it the hard way.

Shaquille O’Neal showed up for training camp out of shape after celebrating his first title and the rest of the roster seemed to follow his lead as well. Kobe Bryant on the other hand not only showed up in shape, but he had improved his game both offensively and defensively.

With the big man playing himself into shape, Bryant sought to assert himself more on offense, somewhat at the expense of his teammates. O’Neal was not fond of the approach, figuring instead that he should be the first option on the team since the unit had won a title the season prior by using that formula.

Although the logic made sense, O’Neal was in and out of the lineup with minor injuries due to his poor conditioning while Bryant was playing with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove to his teammates as well as the league that he was perhaps the best all around player in the NBA.

The perception out in the public was that the Diesel thought that the guard was selfish and that Kobe saw his teammate as fat and lazy.

Rumors started to come out that Bryant might get traded and the masses began to question which player was more important at this juncture to the franchise.

For all of the turmoil brewing around the team, they played well in stretches during the regular season and had a pair of five-game winning streaks as well as three different four-game winning streaks.

The team was good but they were not the same crew that won the title the year prior. Indeed, O’Neal’s defensive effort paled in comparison to his MVP season; which was his way of pouting for not getting what he felt was an adequate amount of touches.

The Lakers finished the 2000-01 regular season 14th in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their mark from just a year before, where they had the best one in the league. Luckily, their sixth best offensive efficiency would help carry the team and keep them afloat.

Late in the season, Kobe missed 10 games and the team won seven of those contests with O’Neal once again playing his dominant brand of basketball. Bryant returned to the team with a new resolve, asserting himself only in key stretches when the situation called for it. The guard and center combo helped the Lakers win eight games in a row to close out the season.

The Lakers ended the regular season with a respectable 56-26 record and a plus-3.4 average scoring margin; which really is hardly the stuff of legends. But it looked as though they were peaking at the right time.

Phil Jackson’s squad opened up the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers (50-32) and took them out in three games, winning every contest by an average of 14.7 points per game.

Next up, the Lakers faced off against the Sacramento Kings (55-27), who proved not to be much of a match for a Lakers team that was clicking on all cylinders. The purple and gold dispatched the Kings in four games, winning by an average of 9.3 points per game and setting up a terrific Western Conference Finals against the league leading San Antonio Spurs (58-24).

Many expected this series to be one for the ages, but the Lakers had no interest whatsoever in keeping things interesting.

With the Spurs alternating between double-teaming O’Neal and playing him straight up, it created lanes for Bryant to get shots off and create havoc for San Antonio’s defense.

The superstar guard was simply unstoppable as he put up 33.3 points per game, 7 rebounds per game and 7 assists per game on 51.4 percent field goal shooting in the conference finals. His dazzling scoring combined with his playmaking would destroy the Spurs’ defensive game plan and not only allow O’Neal to do damage on the interior, but also set up the likes of Rick Fox, Robert Horry and a scorching hot Derek Fisher to convert open jumpers.

What was supposed to be a series for the ages between arguably the two best teams in the league ended up being a cakewalk for the Lakers, as they thoroughly dispatched San Antonio in four games, winning them by an average of 22.3 points per game.

And just like that, the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals with a perfect 11-0 postseason record, ready to take on the Philadelphia 76ers (56-26).

Game 1 would provide great theatrics as Allen Iverson exploded for 48 points and led Philly to a victory at Staples Center despite Shaq’s almost outrageous line of 44 points and 20 rebounds.

Facing a must win situation at home in Game 2, O’Neal dominated the 76ers frontline and provided one of the most hidden gems as far as finals performances are concerned with 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks.

With O’Neal playing like an all-time great, Philadelphia just could not do anything to stop him despite the presence of Dikembe Mutombo — he won the Defensive Player of the Year award that season — as the Diesel would run roughshod through the Sixers as Los Angeles went unbeaten in the remainder of the title round.

Shaquille O’Neal won the Finals MVP award on the strength of his 33 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 4.8 assists per game 3.4 blocks per game on 57.3 percent field goal shooting in the five games in the NBA Finals.

Although the Lakers would “only” sport a plus-6.8 average victory margin in the 2001 Finals against the 76ers, their performance has to be considered as perhaps the best postseason run ever seen in the NBA.

The ’01 Lakers’ defeated four teams that won 50 games or more and also managed to take down three of the four — the purple and gold would be the fourth one obviously — best teams in the league and did so while only losing one game.

Their 15-1 playoff record still stands as the best postseason record in league history and their plus-12.8 playoff average scoring margin is the best of any of the Los Angeles Lakers title teams.

Should we compare this team to any of the Lakers from the 1980s, they might not match up favorably in terms of star power and Hall of Fame caliber talent available on the roster; but if we simply look at what this unit did in their own right on their way to the title, it’s awfully tough to not come away impressed with the way they outclassed the best teams in the NBA on their way to the title.