1971-73: 33 In A Row!
Team Roster and Player Profiles
Owner Jack Kent Cooke replaced Head Coach Joe Mullaney in 1971-72, bringing in former USC star and Celtics standout Bill Sharman. The team had to make do without Baylor, who retired early in the season after realizing that his legs were not going to hold up through another year. The Lakers may have lost Baylor, but they did have a balanced, mature, and experienced team with Hairston and second-year player Jim McMillian as forwards, Chamberlain in the pivot, and West and Goodrich at the guard spots.
The Lakers went 6-3 through the first month of the season. On November 5 they beat Baltimore, 110-106, marking the first of 14 straight wins in November. December saw them take 16 games without a loss. Along the way, the Lakers shattered the NBA mark of 20 consecutive victories set by the Milwaukee Bucks just one season before. Los Angeles won three straight to open the new year before the Bucks finally ended the string on January 9, besting the Lakers, 120-104. At that point the Lakers had rung up a 33-game winning streak, an American professional sports record. The team rolled on to a 69-win year, setting a new NBA record for victories in a season, a record that would stand until the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls went 72-10. Chamberlain averaged a career-low 14.8 points, but it may nevertheless have been his finest season-he led the league in rebounding with 19.2 per game, was a defensive stalwart, and played outstanding team basketball. West led the league by dishing out 9.7 assists per game, and he and Goodrich each averaged better than 25 points. The team paced the league in points, rebounds, and assists. At season's end, Bill Sharman was named NBA Coach of the Year.
The Lakers breezed right through the playoffs, sweeping the Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinals, ousting the Bucks in six games in the conference finals, and then zipping by the Knicks in the Finals, four games to one. After years of frustration the Lakers had finally earned an NBA Championship, the team's first in Los Angeles and the first for the franchise since 1954. Chamberlain was named Most Valuable Player of the Finals.
The Lakers didn't match their record pace of the previous season during the 1972-73 campaign (although they won all 12 of their games in November), but they did roll to another Pacific Division title by winning 60 games overall. Wilt Chamberlain, playing in his final season, led the league in rebounding for the 11th time in his career. He also became the first player in NBA history to record a field-goal percentage above .700 -he finished at .727.
Los Angeles needed seven games to get by the Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinals, but they then breezed past the Golden State Warriors in the Western Division Finals. That set up an NBA Finals rematch between the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Los Angeles took the first game by three points, but the Knicks employed a pressing, trapping defense that forced the Lakers into an average of 19 turnovers and held them under 100 points in each of the final four games. New York took the series in five games to wrest the title away from the defending champions.