In the wake of a gritty, hard fought 101-97 road defeat to the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat and its historic streak have come to an end at 27 straight games, six shy of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers 33 straight. But one begs to question, was this in fact the greatest winning streak of all-time?
Yes, the 1971-72 Lakers combination of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry “The Logo” West and Gail Goodrich won 33 games in a row, with West averaging 25.8 points per game and a career high 9.7 assists per game. But during that year, the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association were still two separate leagues with many notable players yet to join the NBA.
Philadelphia 76ers’ Julies “Dr. J” Erving was the 1980 regular season MVP and 1983 NBA champion, but also averaged 27.3 points and 15.7 rebounds in 1971-72 for the ABA’s Virginia Squirrels; ending his career as an NBA Hall of Famer.
Three-time all-star and Boston Celtics’ guard Charlie Scott led the ABA in scoring with 33.4 points per game in the 1971-72 season and averaged 16.3 points per game for the 1978 Celtics NBA championship team.
One of the tallest players of his era, Artis Gilmore stood 7-feet-2-inches tall and averaged an ABA high 17.8 rebounds while adding 23.8 points per game before joining the NBA in 1976 as the first overall pick in the 1976 Draft where he scored 18.6 points and grabbed 13.0 rebounds per game as a six-time all-star with the Chicago Bulls.
Other notable players also played for the ABA during this time and point being, the level of competition and talent was split amongst the two leagues during the 1971-72 season.
Not to take anything away from the great West, whose silhouette is the current NBA logo and the incomparable Wilt “The Stilt”, who holds the all-time record for points scored in a game (100) but there were no Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant for that matter to compete against.
During their streak, The Heat defeated their opponents by an 11.9 point average margin of victory. As a team they stifled the opposition, holding opponents to 93.4 points while scoring a remarkable 105.3 points per game. In contrast, the 1971-72 Lakers won by an average of a 16.0 point margin of victory and won their first NBA championship for Los Angeles that ignited an era of dominance.
Still this year’s Miami team has without a doubt, rivaled the same level of greatness day in and day out.
“It’s one of the best that this league has ever seen,” LeBron James said. “We recognize that and rightfully so.”
Another noteworthy streak was that of the 2000 Lakers led by two players who are better recognized by their first names, Kobe and Shaq. They plateaued after winning 19 games in a row where Kobe Bryant averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds while Shaquille O’Neal led the way with 29.7 points and 13.6 rebounds, the first of their three straight NBA championships.
Even at their greatest regular season moment the duo of Kobe and Shaq were unable to accomplish what Wade and James have.
“We understand probably more so later on in our careers, the significance of it. And then that was it,” Spoelstra said. “We took that moment to acknowledge it, to acknowledge each other, that experience, but it was never about the streak. We have a bigger goal, but also right now, it’s about are we getting better?”
Currently, the Heat hold the NBA’s best record at 56-15 and if that record remains, they will have home court advantage throughout the NBA Finals, a destination they expect to make for a third straight year with the “Big Three”.
Averaging 26.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game this season, James is making his case for his fourth regular season MVP award in five years.
“We haven’t had a chance to really have a moment to know what we just did,” James said. “We had a moment, just very fortunate, very humbled and blessed to be part of this team and be part of a streak like that.”
Most significantly, during the streak Miami was able to extend their lead in the Eastern Conference over the second place New York Knicks by 12 games.
“It was a five second moment of reflection before we move on to the rest of the season and what is really important, getting prepared for the playoffs,” Wade said.
It was not five, not six, not seven but 27 games in a row, 52 days in fact, where the Miami Heat toyed with the rest of the league and the world could only sit back and “witness”.
“In here it didn’t feel like we were on this amazing streak,” Wade said. “It felt like we were just playing basketball, just finding ways to win games that just happened to result in 27 straight wins.”