7. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers were supposed to be done by the 1971-72 season, relegated to one of the great also-rans of NBA history. Los Angeles had lost in the NBA Finals seven times in the previous nine years, including six times to Boston and once to the New York Knicks. Many people believed the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks with second-year center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had surpassed the Lakers. Worse, the combination of Elgin Baylor (37 years old), Wilt Chamberlain (35) and Jerry West (33) were all considered past their prime.
First-year coach Bill Sharman changed the way the Lakers played, turning them into more of a fastbreak team. Baylor couldn’t take the new system and retired after nine games. Losing Baylor actually worked because it allowed guard Gail Goodrich (team-high 25.9 points per game) and forward Jim McMillan (18.8) to emerge. In addition, West responded with another great season (25.8 points and 9.7 assists per game).
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the system was Chamberlain, who morphed again in his great career. He focused on rebounding and defense that year, usually starting the fastbreak with his precise outlet passes. Instead of being the focus of the halfcourt offense, Chamberlain was preserved. His scoring average dropped to 14.8 per game, the first time in his career he averaged less than 20 and less than half his career average of 30.1 points. Chamberlain was incredibly efficient with his offense, leading the league with a 64.9 shooting percentage.
The new style and the combination of factors led to a historic season. Not only did the Lakers set a record for regular-season victories by going 69-13 (a mark that stood for 24 years), they also set a record with 33 consecutive victories during the season. That mark stands. After winning a brutal series with Milwaukee in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers cruised past the Knicks in the Finals, winning the series 4-1.