2012-13 NBA Season: The Year of the Streak
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Like Will Ferrell in Old School, a lot of NBA teams are going streaking this season.
The Miami Heat dominated headlines by winning 27 straight games, the second-longest streak in NBA history. This makes it easy to forget that the Los Angeles Clippers had a 16-0 month of December (just the third 16-0 month in league history), and the Denver Nuggets reeled off 15 in a row from February 23 to March 23.
Now, the New York Knicks, winners of 13 consecutive games, are threatening to become the fourth team this year to claim victory in 15 or more straight games. (If they win out, they will finish with 18 wins in a row.)
It has been quite the season.
The Heat and Clippers have made 2012-13 the first season since 1995-96 in which two teams mounted win streaks of at least 16 games.
The only other time it's happened came in 1990-91, when the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers each won 16 games in a row.
There has been one other year that featured two streaks of at least 16 games (1970-71), but there were not two teams involved. The dominant Milwaukee Bucks, with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who averaged 34.8 points and 16.6 rebounds per game), did it twice that season.
Imagine the digital ink that would be spilled over a team in today's NBA that put together streaks of 20 and 16 wins in the same year? It might make "Linsanity" look tame by comparison.
Moving beyond the past and toward the future, does this mean that that Heat or Clippers (or the Knicks if they make it to 16 straight) will win the NBA title this year? Do regular-season winning streaks lead to the promised land?
Sometimes—or to be more precise, half the time.
Nine of the teams that have won 16 or more in a row in NBA history have won a ring. The other nine came up short.
It couldn't be any more inconclusive, but then again, 50 percent odds are a lot better than most teams could ever hope for.
We also know that the Heat are clearly the favorites to win a championship this season.
Both the New York Times and Bill Simmons of Grantland have provided excellent breakdowns of Miami's streak, and Simmons' piece highlights why the greatness the team displayed while beating 27 opponents in a row is likely no fluke:
The '66 Celtics went back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. The '72 Lakers rolled off 33 straight. The '96 Bulls won 87 of 100 games. The '86 Celtics finished 50-1 at home. The '01 Lakers finished 15-1 in the playoffs. I always believed that, if you wanted to make history — real history — you had to beat one of those five teams. You had to win nine straight titles or 34 straight games. You had to win 88 of 100 games in one season, you had to sweep your home games, or you had to sweep the playoffs. Those were your five tickets to immortality.
But the Heat may have forged their way into that previous paragraph anyway. Assuming they win the title convincingly, or even semi-convincingly, that 27-gamer raised their street cred to historic heights. You shouldn't be able to win 33 straight in 2013; the NBA is littered with too many Hall of Famers, All-Stars and future stars these days.
Everyone's ability to study and scout other teams, use advanced metrics, pick apart their flaws, play percentages against them … I mean, if you have any semblance of a wart in 2013, people are going to find it and pick it apart. And you're always one Marcus Thornton scoring barrage or The Game of Jeff Green's Life away from being sucker-punched on the wrong night. It's just not realistic. Throw in the prohibitive salary cap and I can't see 27 happening again, much less 33. They're on the short list of great single-season teams as long as they can avoid that asterisk.
While there may be some Simmons hyperbolizing in there, he aptly sums up the magnitude of what the Heat accomplished.
There is no mistaking the fact that Miami's streak is an unlikely-but-not-improbable outcome created by one of the best teams the league has seen in the past 20 years.
As for the others, the jury is still out.
These could just be fluky results earned by very good teams that played very great basketball for a few weeks.
But even though the Clippers, Nuggets and Knicks seem like unlikely candidates to hoist a banner this season, that's why they play the games.
It will surely take another surprising, Herculean run of success in the playoffs for any of those three to take home a championship, but each has shown that it has the ability to channel greatness for an extended stretch—at least in the regular season.
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