Nobody hates it when writers and fans talk about teams winning 70 games before January more than I do.
To be perfectly honest, it really doesn’t make sense to talk about a team’s chances of winning 70 games until the All-Star break.
So before any of you call me a hypocrite just understand that this isn’t my attempt at making a case for the Lakers winning 70 games as much as it is a primer for what all of you Lakers haters and homers need to pay attention to before you start broaching the subject.
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were the only team in the NBA’s history to win 70 games. By the end of 1995 they had amassed an incredible record of 25-3. By the All-Star break they had improved their record to an even more impressive 42-5—thanks to an 18-game winning streak.
The Bulls finished with a post-break record of 30-5 record.
In addition to the 18-game streak, the Bulls also had a 13-game winning streak as well as seven other winning streaks of five games or more.
Of their 10 losses that year, only two of them came back-to-back.
The most impressive fact about the 1995-96 Bulls is that between Nov. 27 and Feb. 4 they went 31-1.
One of the only criticisms about that amazing team was that they were aided by the NBA expanding into Canada—giving the Bulls six easy wins against the newly-formed Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies.
I understand that those six games would have probably presented greater challenges had they been against teams that were already in existence.
But nobody seems to remember that one of the Bulls 10 losses came against the Raptors. Sure it’s only one loss but it’s one loss out of only 10 they had all season.
Considering how great that Bulls team was, there was a great chance that they would have gone 5-1 against any random six opponents.
The Hard Part
There’s no denying that the roughest part of the NBA schedule comes in the form of back-to-back games. I find it funny that today’s players complain about back-to-backs when it wasn’t that long ago teams would play in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas on three consecutive nights.
Since this Lakers team has all but two players returning from last season’s squad (and that’s if you count Sun Yue) it wouldn’t be crazy to see how they fared on the second night of back-to-back games last season as an indicator of how they might do this season.
Last year’s world champs, who finished the season with a 65-17 record, went a remarkable 14-5 on the second night of back-to-backs, including road wins over the Hornets (twice), Spurs, and Celtics.
This year the Lakers have 20 sets of back-to-backs, including a stretch in December that sees them playing three consecutive back-to-backs in only 10 days. Of those six games, only the first one is at home.
Of their 20 sets of back-to-backs, their games on the second night are on the road an eye-catching 18 times—including games at Houston (twice), Denver, Utah, Detroit, Dallas (twice), and Portland.
There are also games in Sacramento (twice), Indiana, and Charlotte—three teams that not only beat the Lakers in their home buildings last season but always seem to give the Lakers fits in front of their hometown fans—regardless of their won-loss records.
The Easy Part
Much has been made of the fact that the Lakers play 17 of their first 21 game at home this year. That’s probably why I chose to write this article in the first place. Should the Lakers find a way to get through those 21 games with a record of 19-2 or better there is no question that there will be plenty of talk about them winning 70 games.
Of the the four road games during that stretch, three of them are against the Warriors, Thunder, and Rockets—three teams that will most likely either miss the playoffs or finish seventh or eighth in the conference.
The fourth game, against the Nuggets in Denver on Nov. 13 is on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Importance of Luck
You can’t underestimate the importance of luck when it comes to attempting to win 70 games.
For starters, you don’t want to have too big a lead in the standings because it’s important for those final few games in the season to mean something.
Of the Lakers seven games in April, four of them are against teams expected to be playoff locks (Utah, San Antonio, Denver, and Portland) and a fifth is against the Clippers—a team expected to fight for one of the last few playoff spots.
If the Lakers have a comfortable lead over the other teams fighting for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, there’s a chance that players with nagging injuries could sit out and try to get healthy before the start of the playoffs.
And that brings me to other big issue related to luck and that’s health.
Michael Jordan played in all 82 games for the Bulls in 1995-96 at 32. At 31, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that Kobe Bryant could play in all 82 games but when you consider that he hasn’t missed a game—regular season, playoff, or international—in over two years, the Lakers would need a lot of luck if they hope he can get through another 82 without missing a game.
Besides Jordan, Scottie Pippen only missed five games, Toni Kukoc only missed one game, Ron Harper missed only two, and Steve Kerr didn’t miss any.
Dennis Rodman missed 18 games and Luc Longley missed 20—but back-up center Bill Wennington, who missed 11 games, was healthy for all 20 that Longley missed.
This year’s Lakers team is as equipped to withstand the loss of one starter at any position as any team in the history of the NBA.
The flexibility of four of the Lakers top six players enables them to plug Lamar Odom into their lineup for any injured starter.
If Andrew Bynum gets hurt then Pau Gasol can play center with Odom moving into the starting power forward spot.
If Gasol is hurt, as he was in the season opener, then Odom can fill in for him.
If Ron Artest is hurt then Odom can start as small forward.
If Kobe Bryant is out then Artest can play shooting guard and Odom can play small forward.
If Derek Fisher gets hurt then Phil Jackson would most likely move either Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown into the starting lineup but he has the luxury of starting Bryant and Artest in the backcourt and playing Artest at small forward if he so desires.
Is It Going to Happen?
My short answer to whether or not the Lakers are going to win 70 games this year is no. They definitely have the talent to do so but their schedule says otherwise. With 18 of their 20 games on the second night of back-to-backs coming on the road, as well as 16 of their 28 games after the All-Star break being on the road, it’s hard to imagine them only losing 12 games all season.
I’d be more inclined to give them a shot if they’d had a single winning streak in the double-digits last season. They had one winning streak of nine games and two of seven games.
They had the league’s best road record last season at 29-12 but they would have to improve on that since they could only lose 12 total games if they hoped to win 70.
In the meantime, don’t even bring the subject up unless it’s Jan. 1, 2010 and the Lakers are 27-4 or better.
Andrew Ungvari is a co-lead blogger for SirCharlesInCharge.com .
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