Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9, 1972: 33 and done

MILWAUKEE - On October 31, 1971, the Lakers lost to Golden State 120-104. The loss was their second straight, dropping their record to 6-3. Surprisingly, forward Elgin Baylor announced his retirement after the game, indicating that with his decreasing skills, he felt he was hindering the team's chances of winning a championship.

Most teams would struggle after losing a hall-of-famer early in the season. The Lakers did not struggle. Led by Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich - all future hall-of-famers themselves - the Lakers responded with a stretch of dominance unmatched in American sports.

The Lakers didn't lose a game in November, going 14-0 to pull away in the Pacific Division. On December 12, they beat Atlanta by nine, extending their winning streak to an NBA record 21 straight victories. On December 22, the streak reached 27, breaking the New York baseball Giants' record of 26 straight victories. The Lakers now had the longest winning streak in the history of North American professional sports.

And they weren't done. They finished December undefeated, their second straight perfect month, to stretch the streak to 30 games. They won their first three games in January, too, before a January 9 showdown in Milwaukee with the defending champion Bucks.

Milwaukee had set the winning streak standard the year before with 20 straight victories. With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, they were the only team who had the talent to match the Lakers.

With the Lakers running all over their opponents, the Bucks' game plan was simple: get back as fast as possible on defense. Milwaukee was willing to give up the chance at offensive rebounds to stop the Lakers' fast break. The plan worked. With Abdul-Jabbar providing the offense, the Bucks stopped the Lakers' record streak with a 120-104 victory.

The Lakers weren't deterred. With a 39-4 record after the loss, they already had the number 1 seed virtually wrapped up for the Western Conference, so they put it in cruise control for the rest of the regular season. When the playoffs came, they fought their way past the Bucks in the Western Finals and won their first NBA championship.

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