While no NBA games will be played until October, the summer of 2010 has created the most hype for an NBA season since the days of Michael Jordan.
Rivalries are reshaping, big name players are moving and teams are tinkering all in search of the illustrious championship. But with all this hype comes the obvious thing many sports fans dread.
ESPN reported today that color commentator Jeff Van Gundy has high hopes for the odds-on favorites, the Miami Heat. He claims the ceiling is so high in South Beach, it’s surprising that his brother, Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, isn’t actually Heat frontman Erik Spoelstra.
Someone just made Thanksgiving dinner awkward.
Many people see Jeff Van Gundy as a reasonable commentator, known for his understatements and skeptical eye when he’s not busting out one-liners. But what does the former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets head coach believe the Heat are capable of?
1. Breaking the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins.
2. Being the all-out favorite, with only the Lakers having a remote chance of beating them.
3. Never losing two games in a row.
4. Having a “legit shot” at breaking the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers’ record of 33 consecutive wins.
All four of these points are certainly arguable. Point one seems extremely plausible considering LeBron James won 66 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers and did not have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on his side.
If those two aren’t good for at least six more W’s, then he wouldn’t have taken his talents to South Beach.
Point two is a little more iffy. Teams like Boston and Orlando will definitely have something to say about it, and a remote chance, by definition, implies the two-time defending champs are unlikely to stand in the way.
I just heard Jack Nicholson guffaw.
The third point seems unlikely just because it’s never been done before, not even by those 72-win Bulls. Sure, some may say it’s long overdue, but with back-to-backs, injuries and playoff preparation, never losing two straight seems like a long shot.
But the real question is number four.
Can they topple Wilt Chamberlain and company's record for consecutive wins that has stood for nearly 30 years?
Here’s a quick history lesson for those uneducated on the record. Since it was set in 1972, the closest team to it was the Houston Rockets in 2008, but that probably didn’t make the former Lake Show sweat like Mercury Morris.
Probably because, with only 22 consecutive wins , the Rockets were still 12 short of the record.
This 1971-72 Lakers was one of the best squads in NBA history. Bill Sharman coached a group led by Hall of Famers Gail Goodrich, Jerry West and Chamberlain, among many notable reserves.
Los Angeles’ own super trio. Except they’d actually done something before.
During their miraculous run, their margin of victory was more than 15 points-per-game. Goodrich and West were fifth and sixth in scoring, respectively.
But, all that knowledge aside, are James, Wade and Bosh capable of shattering the long-standing record?
Let me first clarify: I’m not some Los Angeles homer. I am a Lakers fan, but I know the Heat have the players to pull this off. In fact, they are the only team currently capable of breaking the record due to their youth and plethora of go-to guys.
That scent of bias you were searching for will not be found here.
But I digress. While the Heat have the tools, the task seems nearly insurmountable for a variety of reasons.
Let’s start with a comparison to the Lakers squad. In 1971, legendary Laker Elgin Baylor retired after only nine games. The Lakers luckily got nearly 19 ppg from Jim McMillan, a second-year forward who shocked everyone as a fill-in for Baylor.
That’s argument one: Injury.
Yes, Baylor was at the tail end of his career, but his absence allowed the Lakers to get bounced early in the 1971 playoffs by Milwaukee. Injuries can plague any team at any time, and that could be the Heat’s undoing in pursuit of the record.
If LeBron or Wade went down in game five of the season, the chance at the record is toast, as I don’t see any Heat subs as the next McMillan. They might still be able to pull it off without Bosh, but with a depleted bench of bigs, it’s nearly impossible.
Moving on to argument two, which is a new-fangled thing that didn’t exist much back in the 70s:
When teams have locked up a playoff spot or division title nowadays, they will sit their stars. There is nothing wrong with this, as it’s completely logical to want your best players ready for the playoffs.
But that limits a chance at the record.
Since many people think the Heat are on their way to at least 60+ wins this year, they may have a division title locked up early. That means Miami Thrice might sit a lot toward the last 10-20 games of the year.
This pushes the window for 33 straight to the first half of the season. But considering this is a whole new set of teammates, that is the time when they will be working on argument three, chemistry, which has been spoken about ad nauseum.
If it takes only 20 games to figure out everyone’s exact role and the Three MyEgos sit the last 15, that leaves only 47 games in the middle to win 33 straight.
The schedule might not have been released completely, but there’s at least one road game against a title contender in that section.
Christmas Day at the Lakers.
If the team’s history is in jeopardy, Kobe Bryant, one of the best students of the game, will bring the fire.
Finally, the last argument may be a little more subjective than the others, but it’s still very simple.
The NBA’s elite are better.
In the ’71-’72 season, there were five teams with more than 50 wins. In 2009-2010, there were 12. With more teams comes more parity, and the Heat will see many more formidable opponents than those Lakers did.
So while Jeff Van Gundy can sing the praises of the Heat before they hit the court, they still are a long way from setting any records. In raw talent, they definitely have the ability.
But do they have the fortitude to win 33 straight?
Normally I’d say, but who wants another prediction?