1971-72 Lakers vs. Heat (03/26/13)

By John Ewing

Who would win, 1971-72 Lakers or the Heat? With the Heat's streak at 27 games we provide the odds of the streak continuing. Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.

With Miami's winning streak now at 27 games it is hard not to wonder how the Heat would match up against the 1971-72 Lakers that own the NBA record of 33 straight wins.

The streaks by the numbers.

  Lakers Heat
Wins 33 27
Avg. Pts. 123.3 105.3
Opp. Avg. Pts 107.3 93.4
Avg. Pts. Diff. 16.0 11.9
Home 18 14
Road 15 13
No Rest 9 6
Total Days 59 51

Do not get distracted by the amount of points the Lakers scored/surrendered compared to the Heat during their respective streaks. The Lakers played in an up-tempo era; the league played at a faster pace which led to more possessions for all teams. What is interesting to note is the margin of victory for both teams; the Lakers dominated their competition more completely winning by an average of four more points per game than the Heat. Miami has won ten games by nine points or less and three games by one possession.

Possibly more impressive than the dominance of its opponents is how quickly the Lakers accomplished their winning streak. Los Angeles won 33 games in just 59 days. The Lakers began their streak winning eight games in ten days, something the Heat will never do. It has taken Miami 51 days to win 27 games in a row; it will take 62 days to tie the record and 65 days to break the record. Miami has played in six back-to-back games. If they break the record, they will have to complete their seventh back-to-back in order to do so.

Comparing the teams (note: top five players by minutes, not starters)

  Points Field Goal % Rebounds Assists PER
Wilt Chamberlain 14.8 0.649 19.2 4.0 18.5
Jerry West 25.8 0.477 4.2 9.7 23.1
Gail Goodrich 25.9 0.487 3.6 4.5 20.1
Happy Hairston 13.1 0.461 13.1 2.4 15.7
Jim McMillian 18.8 0.482 6.5 2.6 14.3
LeBron James 26.7 0.557 8.2 7.4 31.2
Dwyane Wade 21.5 0.519 5.0 5.0 24.2
Chris Bosh 16.5 0.534 6.8 1.6 19.9
Ray Allen 10.8 0.451 2.8 1.5 14.9
Mario Chalmers 8.5 0.432 2.2 3.4 13.3

When you compare the teams it comes down to the Big 3 (LeBron, Wade, and Bosh) vs. three NBA Hall of Famers (Chamberlain, West, and Goodrich). LeBron James is the most dominant player in the NBA, his numbers are up across the board in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage compared to his career averages. James fills all categories and rates out as one of the most efficient players in the NBA with a 31.2 PER. If LeBron has an off night, which he rarely does, then Wade and Bosh are capable of picking up the slack. Both players shoot better than 50% from the floor and create second chance opportunities with their offensive rebounding and passing.

Chamberlain was not as dominant offensively as he had been in the past; he was well below his 30.1 career scoring mark. However, he was more efficient, shooting 64.9% from the floor. Wilt also pulled down 19.2 rebounds per game, which is almost as many as the Big 3 combined. Jerry West led the team in assists with a career high 9.7 and was second in scoring with 25.8 points. Gail Goodrich, the third wheel on this team, led the Lakers in scoring and was second in assists. Goodrich might be the most important player on the Lakers' championship team; he was in his athletic prime in 1971-72 and set a career high in scoring.

So who wins this matchup? After simulating the 1971-72 Lakers vs. the 2012-13 Heat 50,000 times on a neutral court, the Lakers win over the Heat 54.4% of the time. The average score is 103.1-101.6. In a best-of-seven series the Lakers beat the Heat 57.7% of the time.

(Note: The simulation takes into account the talent of competition. This is important because some might worry about the talent level on current NBA rosters with 30 teams in the league or that many of the elite players in the 1970s were in the ABA.)

So the 1971-72 Lakers beat the current iteration of the Heat, big deal. The Heat can break their record. Miami has twelve games remaining this season, and by our simulations, will be favored to win all but one. That one game is March 31st on the road against San Antonio. After 50,000 simulations, the Spurs beat the Heat 56.1% of the time by an average score of 103.9-102.0. We give the Heat just a 26.1% chance of winning their next three games, which includes the road test against the Spurs.

Overall, the Heat have a 17.0% chance of tying the Lakers 33 game winning streak. The likelihood that they break the record is 15.1%. The odds of the Heat winning their last twelve games are 7.6%. Finally, to put the streak in perspective, the odds that the Heat were to win 27 games in a row was 1 in 5,000. The odds that they win 33 games in a row are 1 in 25,000 and the odds that they break the record 1 in 33,333.

Below are the Heat's remaining games and their odds to win each.

Date Team Win % Odds Streak Continues
27-Mar @ Chicago 71.5% 71.5%
29-Mar @ New Orleans 80.8% 57.8%
31-Mar @ San Antonio 45.1% 26.1%
2-Apr New York 80.9% 21.1%
5-Apr @ Charlotte 88.2% 18.6%
6-Apr Philadelphia 91.7% 17.0%
9-Apr Milwaukee 88.3% 15.1%
10-Apr @ Washington 81.0% 12.2%
12-Apr Boston 89.4% 10.9%
14-Apr Chicago 87.6% 9.5%
15-Apr @ Cleveland 85.0% 8.1%
17-Apr Orlando 93.5% 7.6%