Friday, January 15, 2010

An Unchallenged Mark

  On Wednesday the Los Angeles Lakers lost their 9th game of the year to the Spurs. They have won 30 games. The Lakers are the last team in the NBA with less than 10 losses. When the Lakers were 18-3 in December, there was talk about them challenging the NBA’s best ever record set by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls at 72-10. I thought at the time that the Bulls record was going to be an enduring achievement and so far I’ve been right. It is rare for a team to have less than 10 losses by the halfway point in any season. That doesn’t stop the pundits from declaring the team off to the quickest start as a contender to break the record. The Bulls had 7 wins for every loss. As fast as the Lakers started, they needed to win 3 more games to match the Bulls pace. When they lost their next game to go 18-4, they were 10 games behind the pace. It is a brutal pace to maintain much less overtake.

  The Bulls were a driven team in the 1995-96 season. Michael Jordan came out of a 2 year retirement the previous season and looked slow and out of shape in losing to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs and was driven to take his failure out on the rest of the league. The Bulls had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman in supporting roles, so they had the best player and the best talent in the league, but many other talented teams were not been able to come to play every game like that Bulls team. The next best NBA record is 69-13 (twice). That is less than 5 and a half wins per loss. Most NBA teams see 1 to 3 teams with 60+ wins. These teams invariably lose games to less talented teams at the end of long road trips or on the second day of back to back games. But that Bulls team put those considerations out of mind and achieved excellence for the ages.

  While the best NBA regular season record is safe for another year, the mark for the worst record ever is very much in play. The New Jersey Nets are 3-36 and have 12 losses for every win. The record (9-73 by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers) is only 8+ loses per win. This means the Nets could suffer an accidental loss and still stay behind the pace. Only an accidental winning streak can keep them from destiny.