L.A. Lakers: Are the 2001 Lakers the Greatest Playoff Team in NBA History?
The 1995-96, 72-10 Chicago Bulls are, without question, the NBA's greatest regular season team of all time, and Michael Jordan's team cemented their historical status by capping their amazing run with a NBA Finals victory.
That Bulls team is as arguably the greatest NBA team of all time, but Jordan's '96 Bulls couldn't match what the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers accomplished in the postseason.
Chicago ended the 1996 postseason with three losses, which is impressive in its own right, but the 2001 Lakers managed to breeze through the playoffs with a 15-1 record and a .938 winning percentage, the best of all time.
I'm not saying that Shaq and Kobe's Lakers were better than Jordan and Pippen's Bulls; because Phil Jackson's other team did suffer through a 56-26 regular season which is mediocre compared to the 72-10 standard the Bulls set.
But in the playoffs the Lakers caught fire and embarked on a second season of dominance that is unparalleled in league history.
Their achievement is even more remarkable considering the Lakers lost eight postseason games during their 1999-00 NBA championship run, and some of the same teams they struggled with that year they steamrolled in 2001.
First were the Portland Trail Blazers, who stretched the Lakers to seven games in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
In a five game, first round format, the Lakers made short work of the Blazers by sweeping them in three games and cruising with a 14-point average margin of victory in the series.
Next was the Sacramento Kings who pushed the Lakers to five games in 2000.
The Kings gave a more spirited performance than the Trail Blazers, but in the end, the results were the same as the Lakers coasted to a four game sweep in the second round in a hard fought contest that was closer than it seemed.
Next were Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, who supposedly represented the Lakers toughest postseason challenge to date in the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers won Game Two in that series by a score of 87-80 and the seven point deficit was as close as the Spurs would ever get to the Lakers as they were pummeled into submission by an average of 22 points per game in another four game series sweep.
The Lakers entered the 2001 NBA Finals with an 11-0 record in the postseason and dreams of an undefeated playoff run, but Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers erased those thoughts with a 107-101 overtime victory in Game One on the Lakers home floor.
Los Angeles narrowly escaped a second defeat in Game Two and as the players walked off the court Bryant and Iverson engaged in a lively animated dialogue in which Iverson reminded Bryant who held home court advantage in the series now.
But Iverson's victory in Game One would prove to be his high point of the series and possibly his career as the Lakers won a 97-91 squeaker in Game Three and then closed the series in double digit fashion in Games Four and Five.
It was a truly dominant performance for the Lakers and in recent time only the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls and the 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs have come close to matching their achievement.
The Bulls and Spurs only lost two games in the postseason respectively, but neither team was able to sweep their way to the Finals as the Lakers did.
The Bulls lost one game in the Eastern Semifinals and one in the Finals and the Spurs lost once in the first round and dropped another game in the Finals.
Of course the Lakers magical run included a little luck, not to mention Derek Fisher's late season return from injury and his 51 percent shooting percentage from three point range in the postseason.
At that point in time, Kobe and Shaq were without a doubt the top two players in the game and their combined 59 points, 22 rebounds and nine assists average in the 2001 postseason proved it.
The 2001 Lakers are rarely included when discussing history's greatest NBA teams because although their regular season was still superb there was no indication that the ensuing postseason would turn out to be one of the greatest team performances of all time.
The Lakers achievement may pale in comparison to other historical teams who managed to dominate in the regular season and capture a title in the postseason, but to this point, no other team in NBA history has won a title in such convincing fashion.
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