Over the past two seasons, the Lakers have won 122 regular season games. That total is good enough for best in the West and second best in basketball. They have won a remarkable 74.3% of their games during that span. It is perhaps understandable that Lakers fans have begun looking toward the greatest regular season achievement for a squad. Led by Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen on the floor and with the greatest coach in the game in Phil Jackson on the sideline, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls won 87.8% of their regular season games. They finished with a record of 72 wins and 10 losses, the most wins in NBA regular season history. Lakers fans want to equal that mark.
Expecting to best that mark would clearly be hubris. It is an absurd total. Phil Jackson teams have come close, winning 69 games the following season, hitting 67 wins twice (once in Los Angeles and once in Chicago), and the Lakers even won 65 in 2008-09. In fact, across the league, seven teams have hit 65 wins in a season, but only one has hit the 70-win mark. So perhaps even tying the mark, perhaps even hitting 70 wins would be an amazing accomplishment. So perhaps even thinking 70 wins a team's goal is a sign of hubris.
It must be said, however, that the Lakers are not most other teams. No other team has appeared in the past three Finals, or has won two of the past three. No other team has the coach widely considered the best in NBA history (Phil Jackson's 225 postseason coaching victories means that he has been victorious in more playoff games than all but one other coach in NBA history has appeared in--and that is former Lakers coach Pat Riley). The Lakers have also had remarkable success as a franchise, hitting 60 wins 11 times in the history of their franchise, including doing it eight times since 1980. They have won at least 65 regular season games four times, including a best of 69 wins. They have been within striking distance of the mark on numerous occasions, so perhaps when coupled with a superlative coach and excellent recent success it is not so unreasonable to think the Lakers can make a run at 72.
Consider the hard numbers of late. In order to win 72 games, a team must win 87.8% of its games. Over the past three seasons, the Lakers have been able to win at least 87.8% of their games in only two months (out of 21 months in which they played regular season games). In one of those months, the Lakers went 2-0. So the only legitimate performance over a month that meets the required win percentage is November of 2008 when the Lakers won 12 of 13. Their best two-month stretch is .933 (but this includes that pesky 2-game "month"). For two full months it drops to .828 (24 wins, 5 losses). Over three months, their best is .913 (21 wins, 2 losses; again, including the 2-game month). Remarkable? Yes. On pace for 72 wins? No. Try 68. Over four months, it increases to 32 wins, 6 losses, they posted an .842 win percentage (on pace for 69 wins). But that is where things fall apart. The Lakers have not put together more than half a season in which they remained on pace to challenge.
Why the obsession with 72 wins? Lakers fans are in an enviable position: their team wins regularly during the regular season, wins regularly during the postseason, and they bring home trophies. They have the player most often compared to the greatest player in the history of the game. They have arguably the greatest coach in the history of the game. But 72 wins in the regular season, while it would no doubt look great on a resume, is nonetheless a regular season accolade. The Lakers are not a team built to accrue regular season awards; they are built to compete for championships. That is something done in the postseason.