Tip-Off Timer: Bulls' 72 Wins May Never Be Matched
The number 72 conjures up just one memory in the NBA: the marvelous Chicago Bulls of 1995-96, who racked up an unbelievable 72-10 record. No team has ever reached 70 wins, let alone 72. Not Russell's Celtics, not Magic's Lakers -- no one. Heck, even the Bulls couldn't match their own standard in the two title seasons that followed '96.
The depths to which the Bulls dominated the competition in the record-breaking season was astounding. After Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway and former Bull Horace Grant showed the Bulls the door in a six-game conference semifinal season in 1994-95 -- the season in which Michael Jordan unretired with two months left -- Chicago went out and grabbed the vitamin boost it needed: Dennis Rodman.
Rodman, who the Bulls nabbed from the Spurs while only giving up Will Perdue, not only squelched Grant in the Magic-Bulls matchups of '96. Rodman, along with a nearly perfect season from MJ and divine campaigns for Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc, helped take the Bulls to levels never thought imaginable. The Jordan-era Bulls under Phil Jackson had always been stellar on defense, but the '96 version was just suffocating.
In the playoffs that year, Bulls opponents exceeded 100 points only three times in 18 games. The Magic, who that season had been the league's third best offensive unit and had averaged 104.5 points per game, were held to an average of 85 points per game in a 4-0 sweep by the Bulls in the Eastern finals. In the NBA finals, the Sonics exceed 90 points once in six games. The Bulls did this all year!
In the 13 seasons since the Bulls mark, the team which has come closest to breaking the record was ... the 1996-97 Bulls, who finished 69-13. Beyond that, the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks won 67 games (before getting blitzed by the "We Believe" Warriors) and the '08-09 Cavs and '07-08 Celtics each tallied 66 victories.
Remembering how dominant those Bulls were makes one think 72 will be a record that never falls. There are a few DiMaggio records in the NBA: Wilt's 50 ppg, Oscar's triple-double season, Boston's eight straight championships. But 72-10 has to rank right up there.