On Oct. 22, the Lakers lost their season opener against the Clippers, as the visiting team in the downtown Los Angeles arena they share. LeBron James and the Lakers haven’t lost on the road since.
Their 14-game road winning streak is tied for the third longest in N.B.A. history. If the Lakers can beat the Pacers on Tuesday and the Bucks on Thursday, they will tie the record.
That mark of 16 is held by one of the legendary teams of the game, the 1971-72 Lakers. It was part of a more heralded run, a 33-game winning streak that seems almost unbreakable. The 2015-16 Warriors came closest, winning 28 in a row over two seasons.
Those ’71-72 Lakers cruised to the N.B.A. title behind Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich. “When we put it all together, we’ve got to be perhaps the greatest club ever,” Coach Bill Sharman said at the time, casting aside traditional coaching modesty. The team amassed 69 regular-season wins, a record that stood for 24 years. This season’s Lakers, currently 24-3, project to win 73 games, which would tie the 2015-16 Warriors.
The Lakers lost at their Staples Center home to the Mavericks in the middle of their road streak, so their longest overall win streak this season is 10.
The Lakers’ run is particularly impressive in the N.B.A., where winning consistently on the road is difficult. Home teams historically win about 60 percent of all games, and teams as good as the Philadelphia 76ers and Clippers are .500 or worse away from home this season.
On the other hand, the Lakers have benefited from a kindly road schedule during the streak. Ten of the 14 wins came against teams that currently have a losing record. The Lakers do have four strong road wins, against the Mavericks, to start the streak, the Nuggets, the Jazz, and, most impressively, the Heat on Friday. Miami is 11-0 at home against teams other than the Lakers.
The Mavericks’ win that started the streak was also the closest the Lakers came to losing during it. Los Angeles needed Danny Green to beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime before the Lakers won by 9. Los Angeles also won games by 1, 3 and 4 points during the run.
“We want to be able to win in any way, shape or fashion,” James told The Athletic. “Close games, high-scoring games, low-scoring games, physical games, from the perimeter some games.”
Can the Lakers equal or tie the mark of 16 straight road wins? They don’t have an easy path. On Tuesday night, they will visit the 18-9 Pacers. In Indiana, that game looks like a tossup. The potential streak-tying game is the toughest possible draw: a game against the Bucks, who share the Lakers’ league-best 24-3 record.
The Bucks have a streak-busting history, having ended the ’71-72 Lakers’ 33-game winning streak thanks to 39 points from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Four seasons later, the Lakers would pry him away.
Should this year’s Lakers win the two tough midweek games, they could break the record on Dec. 28 against the Trail Blazers in Portland, a far easier task.
But winning streaks are a small consolation if the games that really matter are lost. Ask the holders of the second-longest streak at 15 games, the 1994-95 Jazz. That Karl Malone-John Stockton team wound up 60-22, but crashed out in the first round of the playoffs.