NBA: Lakers’ record streak feeling the Heat from Miami
By Steve Luhm | The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 26 2013 12:39PM
Philadelphia’s Doug Collins has seen more of Miami’s 27-game winning streak than any other opposing coach.
The 76ers have lost to the Heat three times since Feb. 23, including a 98-94 near-miss at home two weeks ago. Does Collins think the Heat are capable of breaking the NBA’s all-time record of 33 straight victories?
"They pulled a couple of rabbits out of the hat," he said. "So could they do it? Absolutely they could do it."
The Los Angeles Lakers hold the record for the league’s longest winning streak. They did it during the 1971-72 season.
Miami shoots for its 28th straight victory Wednesday night in Chicago. If the Heat keep going, they can tie the Lakers’ record on April 6 against Philadelphia.
"They don’t want to see us again," Collins joked, prior to the Sixers’ 107-91 loss in Utah on Monday night.
"They don’t want to see us."
Longtime Utah Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson had just moved from Weber State to the NBA in ’71-72. He was native Utahn Dick Motta’s assistant in Chicago.
The Lakers, led by Hall of Famers Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, beat the Bulls once during their record-setting streak 41 years ago.
"They were just so powerful," Johnson said. "They had such a good blend of players. … They were just a great basketball team that got on a great roll."
Reminded that the Lakers went to Chicago and beat the Bulls, 120-106, for their fourth win of the streak, Johnson smiled.
"That was my first year in the NBA and I couldn’t believe how good they were, to tell you the truth," he said. "And we had a good team in Chicago — a very good team."
The Lakers dominated opponents during their streak, winning by an average of 16 points. Their closest call came in the first game — a 110-106 victory over the Baltimore Bullets.
Johnson recalls Chamberlain playing a pivotal role in Los Angeles’ success. At the age of 35 — in his 13th NBA season — Chamberlain had morphed from a dominant scorer into a superb team player who averaged 20.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
"Wilt, at that time, was not about scoring every time he got it," Johnson said. "He was a great passer and he was so good inside."
The Lakers’ streak ended in Milwaukee on Jan. 9, 1972. Led by young center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 39 points, the Bucks pulled away in the fourth quarter and beat L.A., 120-109.
"We played fantastic for 21/2 months and it had to end," coach Bill Sharman told reporters. "But I hope we are smart enough to learn by our mistakes, so we can play better against them next time."
The Lakers finished with a regular-season record of 69-13. Milwaukee ended up 63-19. Chicago, led by a rugged guard named Jerry Sloan, went 57-25. In the playoffs, the Lakers eliminated Milwaukee in the conference finals, 4-2. They beat New York in the NBA Finals, 4-1, to claim their first title after moving from Minnesota in 1960. Miami’s winning streak, which started Feb. 3 with a 100-85 victory at Toronto, has been highlighted by the play of LeBron James and the Heat’s ability to win close games.
"They are very driven right now," Collins said.
James, in particular, has been overpowering. He averages 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and eight assists during the streak. He’s scored 30 points or more 10 times in the 27 games.
James’ supporting cast has also been outstanding.
All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh continue to flourish. Veterans Shane Battier and Ray Allen — called "championship guys" by Collins — provide support off the bench.
Midseason free agent Chris Andersen has also played a significant role. Along with Udonis Haslem, he is the Heat’s primary rebounder, shot-blocker and rim protector.
"They have great players [who] are in a great frame of mind," Collins said. "They defend you every night and they’ve got two or three guys capable of throwing up huge numbers. ... They’re just playing great."
Of the Heat’s 27 wins during the streak, 19 have come against Eastern Conference opponents. Fifteen were at home. They have 13 victories against lottery-bound teams, including three against Philadelphia and two against Charlotte, Toronto and Cleveland. They have won seven times in back-to-back situations.
Most impressively, Miami has won a handful of close games — some in amazing fashion.
• In a 98-95 win at Cleveland, the Heat trailed by 27 points with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter before rallying.
• In a 105-103 victory at Boston, they overcame 43 points by Jeff Green and a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
• In a 141-129 double-overtime win over Sacramento, they squandered an eight-point lead in the final 1:40 of regulation but prevailed. At Philadelphia, the 76ers went all-out to beat Miami, too. But Allen’s late 3-point shot and a Sixers turnover in the final moments enabled the Heat to escape, 98-94.
"We had a chance to get them and they were able to beat us right at the finish," Collins said. " ... They are just coming up with all the big plays."
If Miami makes a few more, history is within reach.