5 Reasons Why 2013 Miami Heat are Better Than 1972 Los Angeles Lakers
2013 Miami Heat are Better Than 1972 Los Angeles Lakers: 5 Reasons Why
In case you haven’t heard, the Miami Heat are on a winning streak—a 23-game winning streak to be exact. Their 23rd win in a row on Monday night over the Boston Celtics put them ahead of the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. The only team ahead of them now is the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33-straight games in that season.
With the media constantly dissecting the Heat’s winning streak, there are obviously going to be comparisons drawn between this year’s Miami team and the record-setting Lakers. The debate is definitely a valid one, but it’s also a difficult one to assess. In the 40-plus years since the Lakers won 33 games in a row, the game has changed dramatically. Defense has picked up, there’s been the addition of the three-point line, there are significantly more teams in the league, and many other things. It’s just a vastly different landscape in the NBA today.
However, the reason that it’s still doable to draw comparisons between the two teams is because they have so many similarities. Both teams excelled on both ends of the floor, both teams are anchored by having more than one superstar on their roster and, of course, both teams are really good at winning basketball games.
The two teams are incredibly similar. However, when you put both squads under the microscope, it becomes pretty apparent that this year’s Heat are better than the 1972 Lakers. There are several reasons, but here are five of the primary reasons why that’s the case.
Depth of the NBA
This seems like a weird reason to use as justification of why one team is better than another, but it’s definitely relevant. In the 1971-72 NBA season, there were just 16 teams in the league, meaning that all of the talent in the league was concentrated into just those 16 teams. That might seem like an argument in favor of the Lakers, but it’s actually not.
The reason this works in favor of the Heat is because all of the talent in professional basketball at the time wasn’t in the NBA. Though it seems like a foreign concept in today’s world when the NBA is the dominant force in pro basketball, the NBA was competing with the ABA at the time when the Lakers went on their winning streak. In 1976 when the ABA and NBA merged, it created more teams, but also added depth to the talent pool in the NBA. So, where the Heat are currently playing against the best players in the world, that wasn’t necessarily the case for the Lakers because of the ABA.
More than that, it’s also important to note that the Lakers only had 15 opponents to face on their schedule while the Heat have 29 opponents that they have to square-off with. Though that may seem trivial, that is a much more difficult task when it comes to coaching. Then Lakers head coach Bill Sharman only had to scout and prepare for 15 teams that he had to face. Nowadays, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has to scout and draw up a game-plan for 29 opponents. That’s an enormous difference that definitely makes what the Heat are accomplishing more impressive.
The 1971-72 Lakers were an incredibly efficient basketball team. They finished second in the league in field goal percentage, shooting 49 percent from the floor. The Heat, however, are slightly better than that mark with their efficiency this season, shooting 49.6 percent from the field, which is the best shooting percentage in the league.
During the 1971-72 season, the Lakers had just one player shot better than 50 percent: Wilt Chamberlain. That year, Chamberlain shot an astound 64.9 percent from the floor. That’s wildly impressive, but it also greatly skewed the efficiency numbers for the Lakers. The only other player that shot the ball at the same level of the team’s shooting percentage was Flynn Robinson, who shot exactly 49 percent for the season. Everyone else on the Lakers shot below the team average of 49 percent.
The Heat are a different story. They actually have five players on their roster that shoot above their team shooting percentage and shoot above 50 percent. Those players are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem. Sure, the Heat have several players that shoot below 45 percent from the field, but overall, they are a more efficient scoring overall team than the Lakers because they don’t have one player that severely skews their shooting percentage.
Pressure From the Media
One of the underrated things about what the Heat have been doing this season and over their 23-game winning streak is how much the media puts them under the microscope. Every game that they play, there are literally hundreds of sports media outlets dissecting and being critical of every move that they make.
During their current winning streak, it’s hard to look anywhere in the world of sports media without seeing questions like “will the Heat slip-up?” or “who will end Miami’s winning streak?” Those questions are constantly being thrown around by talking heads and there is undeniable amount of pressure that comes with being watched that closely. The Heat have to deal with these expectations and national focus on a nightly basis.
The same can’t be said for the Lakers. There were undoubtedly media outlets that focused on what they were doing at the time, but there is no way that it was as prevalent as the attention that is revolving around the Heat these days. In 1972, there was not an Internet or blogging-community that commented on every game that they played and everything that happened within their franchise. There was no ESPN and the dozens of other 24-hour sports television networks that would discuss what the Lakers were doing. It was a completely different time in regards to media.
There undoubtedly was a ton of pressure placed on the Lakers at that time because of how unprecedented what they were accomplishing was. People surely questioned how long the streak could go on and other things that the Lakers were doing. However, the team wasn’t as exposed to as much of that attention because sports media wasn’t as prominent as it is today. The fact that the Heat have consistently met these expectations and overcome the pressure created by their winning streak definitely weighs in their favor.
Performances of Best Players
Though the 1971-72 Lakers had Chamberlain and Jerry West on their team, there really weren’t any individual performances that stand out on their team. For that season, only two players on their team, West and Gail Goodrich, had Player Efficiency Ratings above 20. More than that, West led the Lakers with a PER of 23.1. Goodrich’s PER was 20.1.
Looking at the Heat this year, they have three players, the Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh, with PERs above 20. More than that, both James and Wade have PERs that are higher than West’s, while Bosh’s PER is higher than that of Goodrich.
This is important when discussing who’s a better team because basketball is a game that largely defines teams by how good their best players are. There’s a reason that people don’t take the Denver Nuggets seriously as a title-contender this season: they don’t have a superstar or a group of stars that they can rely on to carry the physical and emotional load of the team.
That’s why the Big Three are so important to the Heat. Not only are they all exceptionally talented basketball players, but they also can all step-up at any given time and carry Miami to a victory. The Lakers had those types of players, but none of them really stood out and shined the way that Miami’s Big Three does. It may seem trivial, but it makes the Heat a better team in the long run.
When it comes down to it, there’s one crucial factor that has to be considered when you’re comparing the 1971-72 Lakers to this year’s Heat team: the Heat have LeBron James and the Lakers didn’t.
There’s no doubt that Chamberlain is one of the 10 best players to ever play the game of basketball. Open up the NBA record book and you’ll see his name down enough times to prove that point. However, there has never been a player in the league like LeBron that can affect the game in so many ways.
This season, James is averaging 26.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. He’s also the only player on the Heat and the 1971-72 Lakers that has a PER over 30, as he sits at 30.96 right now. James doesn’t just score, doesn’t just rebound and doesn’t just play defense; he does it all.
That’s what makes him so special and why he is the x-factor when comparing these two teams. The Lakers had players that could cover every aspect of the game. They had shooters, defensive stoppers, facilitators and dribble-penetrators, but they didn’t have one player that could do it all. The Heat have all those pieces and then they have LeBron that can do all of those things and can do most of them better than anyone on his team.
James isn’t the greatest player of all-time and there’s no way of knowing whether he will eventually take that title. However, he is hands-down the best player out of all the players between this Heat team and the 1971-72 Lakers. For the Heat, in the NBA, and in the comparison between these two teams, LeBron changes everything.