The Miami Heat have won 24 consecutive games. (Jason Miller / Getty Images )
Jerry West is rooting for the Miami Heat to keep winning, even if it means the former Lakers great loses one of his top legacies.
West said during a teleconference with reporters Thursday that he wouldn’t mind if the Heat broke the Lakers’ NBA record of 33 consecutive victories set during the 1971-72 season, when West was their starting point guard. The Heat has won 24 consecutive games after rallying from a 27-point deficit Wednesday to beat Cleveland.
“Honestly, I think they’ve got an incredible chance to do it,” West said. “I really do. And people say to me, ‘Does it bother you?’ Absolutely not. I think it’s great for the league and I’m delighted obviously for my friend Pat Riley to be able to maybe replicate this not only as an executive but as a player. It’s pretty special.
“If they would break it, my gosh, I think it would be a wonderful story. I have no problem with that.”
Riley, who was a reserve shooting guard for the Lakers during their history-making run four decades ago, is now the Heat’s team president.
West said he has looked at Miami’s schedule and doesn’t see any potential stumbling blocks before a showdown against San Antonio on March 31, when the Heat could stretch its streak to 30 consecutive victories.
“That would be a game that I would be concerned about,” West said. “Certainly playing in San Antonio and they’re going to have Tony Parker back by then."
What’s it going to take for someone to beat the Heat, which has not lost since Feb. 1?
“I think it’s going to take a combination of a team that’s shooting the ball well that also has the capability to defend, to beat them,” West said. “And obviously a poor shooting night on Miami’s part.”
Miami could conceivably break the Lakers’ record with a home victory over Milwaukee on April 9, if the Heat hasn’t lost by then.
The Lakers compiled their streak in a vastly different era for the NBA. They flew on public planes and played four sets of back-to-back-to-back games during a run that lasted more than two months and included only a handful of close games.
“Some of our travel was maybe more difficult than the games we played,” recalled West, 74, who is now a consultant for the Golden State Warriors. “All you had to do was worry about trying to get some rest, which was difficult because we did not fly privately. For us at that point in time, I don’t think any of us thought it was anything other than another day at work. But it wasn’t work, it was fun.”
The Lakers that season also included legendary center Wilt Chamberlain in addition to star guard Gail Goodrich and emerging forward Jim McMillian, who replaced Elgin Baylor after Baylor retired nine games into the season.
“Our strength was in our backcourt in terms of scoring,” West said, “but we had the best rebounding team in the league and great shot blocking.”
Defending NBA champion Milwaukee, led by center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, finally ended the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak with a 120-104 victory in a nationally televised game Jan. 9, 1972.
“I think all of us went in the locker room and felt like we had lost our best friend,” West said.
West disagrees with those who consider the Lakers’ streak among untouchable sports feats, including the Miami Dolphins’ unbeaten season and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
“A lot of people don’t think those things are possible,” West said. “Well, they are possible and I think particularly in basketball you can get a unique team and Miami has a unique team. They have great three-point shooting and they’re never out of a game because of that and then they have the best player in the game who does all the little things.
“I never thought this streak would live forever, no. … I just think it’s a streak that could very easily be broken this year.”
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