In its 43 year history of playing 80 games or more in a season, the NBA has seen 43 teams win more than 60 games in a given year. 16 of those teams reached the 65 win mark. Winning 68 or even the rare 69- only five teams hold that distinction. But when it comes to the magic number of 70, there is only one.
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were like a perrfectly cooked meal complete with world famous chef. The combination of leadership, support, and timing, with an added touch of luck, created a blend for what many believe could be the greatest team of all time. Not only were they able to top the 70 mark, they added an additional two wins to complete the regular season at an incredible 72-10. With the greatest player in the game in Michael Jordan, the ultimate wingman in Scottie Pippen, the unconventional wild card in Dennis Rodman, and the puppet master of Phil Jackson controlling the strings, you had the quintessential mix of elements to be dominant. And while the Bulls carried their momentum into the playoffs and proceeded to cap of their season by wining the NBA championship, not all teams who finished with an impressive record of 67 or more wins even made it to the Finals.
The 1972-73 Boston Celtics who had the second most road wins in NBA history (next to the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls), were defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New York Knicks in a stunning four games to one series. The 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks, who are the most current team to reach 67 wins, were ousted in the first round by the eighth seeded Golden State Warriors. But what does this actually mean? Do the number of wins equal one’s greatness? Aside from the previous two teams that were mentioned, achieving the threshold of 65 or more wins has equated into titles. Of the 16 teams who have done this, 13 have hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end.
This brings us to the meat of what this article is truly about. With dominant teams throughout the history of the NBA, how hard is it to believe that another team will reach 70 wins in a single season? Former Bulls player, now turned TNT basketball analyst Steve Kerr, is adamant that it will never happen again.
““It’s not that,” Kerr said. “It’s virtually impossible to win 70. I think everything had to come perfectly together for that Bulls team. But mainly it’s Michael Jordan, on a great team already, winning 10 games on his own during that season that he wouldn't’t let us lose. It’s a feat that is so difficult because you have to factor in everything: injuries, fatigue, luck — and I just don’t see it ever happening again.”
The funny thing is that the very next season to Chicago’s 72-win club, the 1996-97 Bulls almost eclipsed 70 again. With two games to go in the regular season, they were 69-11. Unfortunately they would go on to lose 102-92 at Miami and then drop the home finale against the rival New York Knicks 103-101. The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers also topped out at 69, despite holding the record for most consecutive wins in a season with 33. This year’s Indiana Pacers seemed as if they were headed for legendary status as they started out the year with a blistering 17-2 record. But as time wore on and the grind of an 82-game season became more of a challenge, the Pacers soon faded to black as most teams do. So what is it about sustaining the momentum and having a legitimate chance at 70?
To win 70 games a team must be very strong defensively, because it is inevitable that there will be nights where shots are simply not falling. There also must be enough offensive firepower that when one or two players have an off night, there must be another player who is capable of picking up the slack. In my opinion there is only one team in the NBA who is currently constructed for the perceivable impossible task. None other than the Miami Heat, who have one of the best defensive units in the game coupled with three stars who are capable to going on their own individual runs at any given time. Last season the Heat finished with league high 66 wins which included a 27 -game winning streak and the best second half to a season in NBA history going 38-3. But with injuries, the lack of the certified post game, and father time creeping up, this opportunity will soon wither away as well.
Quite frankly there is just too much talent spread around the NBA for anyone to have a valid shot at reaching 70 wins again. Teams get hot, injuries take place, referees get irritated (ok maybe not the last one) but there are too many variables that take place over the course of 82 games. Michael, Scottie, Dennis, and Phil are in a house all to their own, everyone else will always be on the outside looking in.