NBA Season Recaps: 1971-1972 Season

By Lorenzo Tanos

The 1970s were known as a decade where many a team had a chance to win an NBA title, but no dynasty, much less one on the level of the Boston Celtics', dominated the league.  The Lakers, despite their then-NBA record 69-13 standing and 33-game winning streak (still a record), were a team that was quickly aging, with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain 33 and 35 respectively, and Elgin Baylor 37 years old and only available for nine games off the bench.

The Milwaukee Bucks didn't have a capable replacement on hand for Oscar Robertson, while the New York Knicks didn't get much return yet from their acquisition of Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets.

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics had a fairly young core group of John Havlicek, Jo Jo White and Dave Cowens, and were back in championship contention.

Still, none of that was enough to stop the Lakers, who went 12-3 in the Playoffs to win their first championship since the George Mikan days.

Eastern Conference W L W-L% GB
Atlantic Division        
Boston Celtics* (1) 56 26 .683
New York Knicks* (3) 48 34 .585 8.0
Philadelphia 76ers (6) 30 52 .366 26.0
Buffalo Braves (8) 22 60 .268 34.0
Central Division        
Baltimore Bullets* (2) 38 44 .463
Atlanta Hawks* (4) 36 46 .439 2.0
Cincinnati Royals (5) 30 52 .366 8.0
Cleveland Cavaliers (7) 23 59 .280 15.0
Western Conference W L W-L% GB
Midwest Division        
Milwaukee Bucks* (2) 63 19 .768
Chicago Bulls* (3) 57 25 .695 6.0
Phoenix Suns (5) 49 33 .598 14.0
Detroit Pistons (8) 26 56 .317 37.0
Pacific Division        
Los Angeles Lakers* (1) 69 13 .841
Golden State Warriors* (4) 51 31 .622 18.0
Seattle SuperSonics (6) 47 35 .573 22.0
Houston Rockets (7) 34 48 .415 35.0
Portland Trail Blazers (9) 18 64 .220 51.0

NBA Champions – Los Angeles Lakers  (d. New York Knicks, 4-1)

MVP – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, 34.8 ppg, 16.6 rpg, 4.6 apg)

Rookie of the Year – Sidney Wicks (Portland Trail Blazers, 24.5ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.3 apg)

LEAGUE LEADERS – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, 34.8 ppg), Wilt Chamberlain (Los Angeles Lakers, 19.2 rpg), Jerry West (Los Angeles Lakers, 9.7 apg), Wilt Chamberlain (Los Angeles Lakers, 64.9% FG), Jack Marin (Baltimore Bullets, 89.4% FT), Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics,314 fouls)

THE ULTIMATE TEAM PLAYER – After so many seasons of ruling over the scoring parade, Wilt Chamberlain became the ultimate team player for the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging a career-low 14.8 ppg on less than ten field goal attempts per game.  Still, he averaged 19.2 ppg and 4.0 apg and shot 64.9% from the field…but just 42.2% from the line, which was, at least presentable compared to his 38.0% free throw clip from 1967-68

AN UNLIKELY DIVISION CHAMP – The Baltimore Bullets topped the Central Division despite finishing with a 38-44 record and losing Earl Monroe to the New York Knicks after just three games.  Their top scorer at this point, with Gus Johnson on his way to retirement and Wes Unseld focusing solely on rebounding and defense, was not Jack Marin, but Archie Clark (25.1 ppg, 8.0 apg), he of the Chamberlain-for-Clark, Imhoff and Chambers trade.  Marin would finish second in scoring with 22.3 ppg, while Unseld averaged 13.0 ppg, 17.6 rpg and 3.7 apg, his outlet passing wizardry finally translating to high numbers for a center.

ON THE ROAD TO FAILURE – The Philadelphia 76ers, a team once led to a title by Chamberlain was now mired in mediocrity, and the worst was yet to come.  The bottom would fall out when Billy Cunningham (23.3 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 5.9 apg) would take his all-around game to the ABA's Carolina Cougars, after being the lone star on a 76ers team that had clearly seen better days.  Cunningham didn't have much else to work with, as young, yet fading center Bob Rule (17.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg), rebounding machine Bill Bridges (13.2 ppg, 13.5 rpg) and Fred Carter (13.8 ppg) teamed up with aging guards Hal Greer (11.8 ppg) and Kevin Loughery (12.6 ppg) to provide support to the "Kangaroo Kid."

UCLA basketball player Sidney Wicks.

A LOOK AT THE LEAGUE LEADERS/TITLE WINNERS – As mentioned above, Wilt Chamberlain became gun-shy as an older player, instead focusing on rebounding and defense. But it was all for the best, as the Lakers did set an all-time best win-loss record that would stand for over two decades.  The record-setting Lakers got the most offense from the dynamite backcourt tandem of Jerry West (25.8 ppg, 9.7 apg) and Gail Goodrich (25.9 ppg, 4.5 apg), while Jim McMillian (18.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Happy Hairston (13.1 ppg, 13.1 rpg) were both solid in the corner spots.  If the Lakers did have one weakness on that 69-13 team, it was the bench, which was led by offense guy Flynn Robinson (9.9 ppg).

A LOOK AT THE CELLAR DWELLERS – The Portland Trail Blazers, in their second year in the NBA, took a step backwards in terms of overall record, but they did have two good young players to build on – 1971-72 Rookie of the Year Sidney Wicks (24.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.3 apg) and 1970-71 co-Rookie of the Year Geoff Petrie (18.9 ppg, 4.1 apg).  Apart from those two, the Blazers were painfully weak compared to the rest of the league – the other starting spots were filled by career backup Dale Schlueter at center, minor draft flop Gary Gregor at small forward, and future NBA head coach Rick Adelman at point guard.

Other notable 1971-72 Blazers included Larry Steele, who would enjoy a decent career as a defensive specialist at guard and forward, and DarrallImhoff, who is best known as the man who defended Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game, as well as the player selected right behind Oscar Robertson and Jerry West in the 1960 Draft.

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