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Layups: Phil Jackson on 72 Wins

Posted by Neil Paine on November 9, 2010

Some interesting comments from the Zen Master about the 1996 Bulls, as well as the possible imprudence of going after the regular-season wins record:

"In '92, after the first championship (with the Bulls), I think we're 46-3 or 43-6, something like that around the All-Star break," Jackson recalled. "The owner called me up and said, 'I hope you're not trying to win the most games ever won in one season.'

"And I said, 'Well, we have a lot of depth. We have a young team. I'm not trying to wear them out. We're just trying to use momentum and win games.'

"That team ended up winning 67 games. They had a little letdown at the end of the season. You get a feel like teams know how to win games and know how to turn it on at the end. They know how to expend the right amount of energy to win a ballgame.

"That really happened with the team in '95-96. They knew how to blow teams out and put them away in the early part of the second period. Everything kind of fell into place for us, also.

"We went on a long road trip and three of the five teams or eight teams we played on that road trip had injuries to players who were important players. We won seven out of eight games on that road trip. Things like that happened."

Few teams in NBA history have had that ability. Right now, the Lakers and Heat are in that group, with SRS scores north of the 1971 Bucks' all-time record (remember, that team was arguably the most dominant ever). However, I doubt either will keep up that blistering pace over 82 games -- and like Jackson said, this may be a good thing. You'd much rather your team be at the top of this list than dominate the regular-season and not have any hardware to show for it.

(H/T: TrueHoop.)

12 Responses to “Layups: Phil Jackson on 72 Wins”

  1. JTaylor21 Says:

    Neil, you're right. Winning the most games during the RS means crap and doesn't mean that the team is going to win the chip (look at the 08/09 cavs). The celtics are the most useful example when talking about a team that doesn't try to win every RS game instead focuses on staying healthy and getting primed for a deep playoff-run. I think that who ever wins the most games this year will not win the chip come july.

  2. Max Says:

    There's no way Jackson is remembering right. The '92 Bulls were 39-9 at the all-star break. They would've had to go 31-3 in the second half to break the then-record of 69 wins.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Good catch... Chicago was 37-5 on January 25 after winning 13 straight games, and 42-9 right after the AS break, but their record was never really as good as Jackson apparently remembers it being. That said, as late as January 28, their season W-L% was still better than the pace they'd need the rest of the season to have 70 wins:

    1992 Bulls WPct graph

  4. Ricardo Says:

    "Neil, you're right. Winning the most games during the RS means crap"

    No it doesn't mean crap.

    In sixty-four seasons, the team that won the best RS record won the championship 31 times. The team with the second-best record won the championship 19 times. Third place or worse only won it 14 times.

    In those fourteen instances, the eventual champion had home court in 74 series out of 114 played.

    Sorry, but record matters quite a bit. Best record = best bet.

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    You're both right... Ricardo is correct, having the best record is predictive of playoff performance (not as predictive as point differential/SRS, but predictive nonetheless). And JTaylor is also correct when he says the best record, by itself, has traditionally been considered meaningless if the team doesn't win a championship. The best regular-season record helps you on that path by giving you home-court and an easier road to the Finals seeding-wise, but it's essentially nothing more than a means to an end.

    In other words, the top record is an important piece of evidence to suggest that a team should be favored to win the title. But after the fact, the only thing most people will remember/care about is what you did with that favorite status once the playoffs began.

  6. Gil Meriken Says:

    I wouldn't bet on the Lakers breaking that 72 win mark, but that's not really going out on a limb.

    Well, at least the Heat still have a chance at 79-3 after tonight!

  7. taheati Says:


    Max is unambiguously correct. The Bulls were 37-5 "around" Super Bowl Sunday (1/26/92) or "around" MLK Day (1/20/92). They were not 37-5 "around" the All-Star break on February 9th -- 16 days or more than half-a-month away. Jackson either misremembered their record around the break or was referring to the 37-5 Bulls, as you point out, of two weeks prior. Had those then-Bulls (37-5 .881) continued apace, they would've finished the season 72-10.

    I also don't see how #1 & #4 are "both right."

    #1 said "the RS means crap and doesn't mean that the team is going to win the chip". As I understood #1's usage, "means" meant predictive, as in the regular season does *not* predict the likelihood of a championship. #1 further cited the Celtics as "a team that doesn't try to win every RS game instead focuses on staying healthy and getting primed for a deep playoff-run", which, however unsubstantiated or counterfactual, *clearly* reinforces #1's supposition that regular season success is *not* predictive of postseason or championship success.

    #4 cited facts to the contrary. #4 is *clearly* correct on fact & merit while #1 is clearly orbiting another planet.

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    I took #1 to not only mean that having the best RS record was not a guarantee of a championship ("doesn't mean that the team is going to win the chip"), but also that in and of itself it has little inherent historical value, at least when compared to winning a championship ("winning the most games during the RS means crap").

    Either way, why exactly are we engaging in a hermeneutical study of JTaylor21's comment?

  9. Ricardo Says:

    That was my fault. I'm amazed that people can believe that the best record means nothing. I seem to encounter this sentiment quite often.

  10. taheati Says:

    It's "hermeneutical" only if you believe Doc Rivers took a pipe to KGs knee so the Cs wouldn't win so much. In the regular season.

  11. kingkong Says:

    I think the argument isn't that the best record means something, it's that winning over 70 games means something

    which is kind of true, if a team wins 60+ and rests their starters at the end, they're just as good and have the #1 seed anyway

  12. dsong Says:

    Come on, guys; neither the Lakers nor the Heat will win anywhere close to 72 games...