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Western Conference Insider: Lakers resemble '95-96 Bulls

By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Nov 24 2008 6:26PM

Sacramento Kings assistant coach Randy Brown knows what a 70-win NBA team looks like.

He was on one.

Or should I say, he was on it, because the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are the lone team in league history to reach the 70-win plateau during their record-setting 72-10 season.

You might remember Brown, a role player who wore No. 0 on the Bulls' 1996-98 championship team, for trying to wrestle the game ball away from Michael Jordan after Chicago downed Seattle in Game 6 of the 1996 NBA Finals.

"I went for that ball," Brown told me before his Kings played the Lakers on Sunday. "It's Toni Kukoc's fault. I told him to give me the ball and as you can see, Michael and I are running for it and then it hit me: It's Father's Day, let the guy have the ball. So, I let it go. He was destined for it, so it was no big deal."

With a 118-108 win over Sacramento, Los Angeles pushed its record to 11-1, moving ahead of Chicago's pace in '95-96. The Bulls started their season 10-2, losing to the Sonics on Nov. 26 before going on a 13-game winning streak to set their record at 23-2 by Christmas.

Only seven out of the Lakers' next 16 games leading up to their Finals rematch against Boston on Dec. 25 are against teams with .500 records or better.

Brown thinks that this Lakers team with a clean shaven Zen Master and No. 24 running the show can match the feat accomplished 12 years ago by the bearded coach and No. 23.

"Of course Phil [Jackson] is down there, but they are a little more talented than we were when I played for the Bulls," Brown said. "At the same time, the NBA is getting some parity. There are a lot of teams out there that are good ... hopefully if they stay injury free, maybe they can get there.

"But 70 games to win in the NBA is a lot of games now because so many teams are good at home. Some teams are getting good now, the East is catching up with the West and the West is going to be strong for some years to come. It's a long season, anything can happen.

The Lakers aren't reveling in their torrid start. While L.A.'s average point differential through the first dozen games is a league best +13.25 (the Bulls' was +9.2 through 12 games in '95-96) there was hardly a feeling of "mission accomplished" in the locker room on Sunday after the Lakers allowed 108 points to a 5-10 Kings team. It was just the third time all season that the newly defensive minded L.A. squad let up 100 points or more to its opponent.

"All we're worried about is the Lakers," Lamar Odom said. "We're not worried about what any other team is doing. We're not concerned with any other uniform or any other organization but the Lakers."

Jackson echoed his sixth man's sentiments when asked if the Bulls' record was on his team's radar.

"We're not thinking about anything at all besides the next game," Jackson said. "New Jersey, they're on a streak, we have to play one game at a time and see what it brings. We have a home stretch here where it's really important to take advantage of this."

By not acknowledging the hot start, the Lakers are actually taking the same approach that the Bulls did over a decade ago.

"I'd be lying if we said we [made 70 wins our goal]," Brown said. "It never was a focus of ours. It never was a team goal. It's funny, I think when we got to 68, 69, Phil Jackson started chirping, 'Why not go ahead and win 70,' but, we were just in a groove. Michael was on a mission and we had a bunch of players that played their role. Like I said, we had no idea that we were going to win 70 games but at some point, after winning so many games in a row, we felt like we could get there. It was a memorable season."

While Brown and the Bulls didn't dwell on 70 wins when they were in the moment, the former 12-year vet with Sacramento, Chicago, Boston and Phoenix now has plenty of time to reflect on it.

"I think about it everyday and I think about how much I didn't take advantage of it because I thought that team would go on forever," Brown said. "After three championships, we thought we could win four, thought we could win five, but, Michael retires, Phil leaves town and next thing you know, there's no more Bulls. I tell the stories to the guys everyday, it was a great time in my life."

Layups

• A couple of Pacific Division teams got facelifts last week as the Warriors sent Al Harrington to New York for Jamal Crawford while the Clippers acquired Zach Randolph, who is having a terrific season so far, for Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley.

Harrington, Thomas and Mobley looked back at the struggling teams they left at their introductory press conferences with the Knicks.

"You're going into a situation with 10 new guys, they have to learn the system, you have to gel with one another, and it's tough," Thomas said about the 2-11 Clippers. "And then the schedule didn't permit us to have cupcake games, so to say. We had the Lakers twice, Utah twice. So, we were still trying to figure it out. It was just a tough situation all in all."

Harrington focused on the situation where he could only watch his team start 5-8 because Don Nelson decided to bench him. "The short of it is that me and coach had a strained relationship, and I felt it couldn't be repaired," Harrington said. "And I guess he agreed to it, so I think the best move was for me to move on. I'm happy that it was done pretty quickly and I'm happy to be here in New York."

• While we're on the subject of the Warriors, how about a little appreciation for the work that Andris Biedrins is putting in. The fifth year center out of Latvia is a serious early contender for Most Improved Player, raising his scoring average from 10.5 points last season to 16.8 points per game this year and his rebounding from 9.8 a game in '07-08 to a league-leading 13.5 per night this year.

He has become the star of our new Wrigley's Doublemint Double Doubles index. His 11 double-doubles lead the league, edging New Orleans' Chris Paul who is in second with 10. All of Biedrins double dips are of the points-rebounds variety, while all of Paul's have come on points and assists.

• The Nuggets' Nene is another MIP candidate after surviving a cancer scare last season. The seven-year veteran center out of Brazil is averaging 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game after only registering 5.3, 5.4 and 0.9, respectively, a season ago.

As jarring as those improvements are, the number that really jumps off his stat sheet at you is his league-leading .636 shooting percentage which is fortified no doubt by his position tied with Dwight Howard as the NBA's most frequent dunker this season. Nene and Howard both have 31 stuffs on the season.

• The coaching changes in Oklahoma City (Scott Brooks for P.J. Carlesimo) and Washington (Ed Tapscott for Eddie Jordan) may have been the NBA front office moves to receive the most attention this week, but there was a peculiar hiring by the Kings that should have garnered more buzz as an unprecedented occurrence.

Sacramento hired Jason Levien to be the assistant GM under Geoff Petrie. The oddity is that Levien is the agent for the Kings' star player Kevin Martin. Levien will have to relinquish representation of his clients including Martin, Udonis Haslem and Luol Deng in order to take the job.

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