In my eyes, the answer is yes.
I realize the San Antonio Spurs are being as great as they always are, the Boston Celtics putting forth another run at it, the Dallas Mavericks looking great, and the Miami Heat being the darkhorse in all of this– they still have a lot of proving to do. But from an objectionable point of view, I don’t see the need for huge panic.
The reason I may be as relaxed about the Lakers is simple: one, I don’t have any emotional investment in the Lakers, and two, I’m a big fan of looking into history at odds. Whenever a team is coming off of two championship wins, and making a third push, you’ve got to know that they’re the undisputed favorites, until their run officially stops. Let’s look at the history of the three-peat:
How many times has the three-peat been possible?
It has been possible eleven times. First by the George Mikan and Minneapolis Lakers in 1951. It was unsuccessful, however, due to a 3 games to 1 loss in the NBA Western Division Finals at the hands of the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).
Then a few years later, in1954, it was completed by that same Lakers team, with a 7 game series victory versus the defunct Syracuse Nationals.
Nine other times it was attempted, the next being the much debated, amazing, Boston Celtics’ 10 championships out of eleven years– (which amounts to three separate attempts; two successful) a run that, as a side note, included five series defeats of the Lakers in the Finals.
The Lakers, then failed a three-peat attempt in 1989. The Detroit Pistons failed in 1991. The Bulls pulled it off twice, in 1993 and 1998. In-between there, the Rockets failed in 1996, and the Lakers pulled it off the last time it happened in 2002.
Three separate three-peats
A total of eleven separate times has a team been in a position to three-peat, six of which, have been successful.
What’s that have to do with this year, you ask?
It, merely lends a hand to what the trend has been in this sport over the years. If history were always correct and couldn’t be changed, six out of eleven is a 55% going rate; that’s a high number for the Finals’ (NBA World Championship Series) 63 year existence.
Some may argue that Boston’s early 60s run is technically six three-peats; in that case, the historical odds would skyrocket to 67% in favor of the 2010-11 Lakers. But, for this argument we’ll stick with the separate three-peat wins to play it safe.
Now we can begin to look into a few teams that have accomplished and failed within these percentages.
The failed three-peat teams
1967 Boston Celtics
This, for obvious reasons, could be a failed attempt that would be ruled out.
After a long stretch of domination, by 1967, the journey had reached it’s limit. The Celtics had, essentially, lost a dynamic, or two, that season, as Coach Red Auerbach had retired forcing Bill Russell to become the player-coach of the Celts. The season ended in a four games to one defeat at the hands of Wilt Chamberlain and the eventual champs, the mighty Philadelphia 76ers.
The 2010 Lakers are still completely in tact; to which none of the example circumstances pointed out above, would apply in anyway.
1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers ended this season at a solid 57-25, enough for first place in the Pacific Division. Their journey, however, would end in a bitter defeat to the rival Detroit Pistons just one year after beating them in the previous finals.
That regular season record demonstrated minor leakage from the powerhouse, as the season before they had finished with a record of 62-20.
The playoffs, though, had turned into another story, as they swept their way through to the Finals defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Supersonics, and Phoenix Suns.
Los Angeles’ hopes would come to a jolting halt after losing both Byron Scott, and Magic Johnson to season ending injuries, allowing Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and the Detroit Pistons, to run amok on them, sweeping the Lake-show 4-0.
As long as the 2010 Lakers can keep Kobe, and Pau healthy, I think they’re in every game. They most certainly can’t afford to lose both.
1996 Houston Rockets
Seemed to had taken a major decline within the second season of their NBA Finals three-peat, winning only 47 games, which was 11 games lower than their previous year’s total.
They limped all the way to the Finals that year.
After finding a way to beat the 60- 22, three seed, Utah Jazz in the first round, they went on to fall behind 3-1 to the 59-23 Phoenix Suns in the second round. Somehow, they found a way to win three straight to win the series, and became only the first team in NBA history to overcome both a 2-0 and 3-1 series deficit in a seven-game series.
After beating the 60-22 San Antonio Spurs, they went on to the Finals to defeat Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, and the Orlando Magic 4 games to 0. That was championship two of their attempted three-peat.
The next year, the Rockets continued to struggle, as they finished 48-34, losing in the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the Sonics.
The Lakers haven’t, really, shown any major signs of true decline. The competition, however, has risen, as it did in the 1996-97 season when the Chicago Bulls began their next set of championships which we will look at in a bit.
Successful Three-Peat Teams
These next set of teams, successfully completed their three-peats through adversity, and a month or two of bad basketball.
2001 – 2002 Los Angeles Lakers
This Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal-powered team didn’t three-peat without their adversity. They began their season 7-0, and advanced to a 20-4 record when they hit a slight rough patch dropping 3 of their next 4 games. After another mild win-streak, they had an unchampionlike stretch from January 11th to January 27th, dropping 6 out of their 9 games in that stretch; including an 18 point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
After which, they suffered another mild losing streak in February before having a mediocre finish down the final leg into the playoffs — where they dominated, going 15-4 in the playoffs to win their third championship in a row.
1997-1998 Chicago Bulls
Fully equipped with the man regarded as the best ever, the Chicago Bulls started the season off a very pedestrian 12-9, before hitting their stride around mid December of ’97.
By the end of January, they were 33-13 on their way to their sixth championship in eight years.
1963 – 1964 Boston Celtics
This devastatingly dominant team started their ’63-’64 year off with a 23-3 blast-off, before running into slides in the month of December and January.
In December, they suffered a 6 out of 10 losing streak and split a stretch of 10 games in January before getting themselves together and winning their sixth straight NBA finals — and as you know, they would go on to win another two in that stretch.
This 2010-2011 Los Angeles Lakers team will have much to contend with this season, but out of respect, you’ve always gotta give a team on the verge of a three-peat the benefit of the doubt. (Unless they’re absolutely tanking. Which, by the way, has never happened in the NBA.)
The Los Angeles Lakers will be fine, and there is still a lot of season left to play.