Talk about the Lakers surpassing the Chicago Bulls’ record-setting 72 wins from the 1995-96 season pops up nearly every year. It then quickly evaporates, either through the media losing interest or the team avoiding the topic. But with the Lakers boasting four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup, such talk has emerged again. It’s come from none other than the unpredictable Metta World Peace.
In seasons past, the Lakers either quietly talked about this goal or shied away from it completely. They didn’t want the added pressure. They wanted to minimize the relentless questions about it. Their head coach often remarked the task would be too overwhelming to complete.
“With Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, it’s definitely possible,” World Peace said in a phone interview with The Times. “They’re great players.”
Whether the rest of World Peace’s teammates embrace that level of thinking remains to be seen.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson often shot down that goal, both as a way to tout the greatness of his Bulls teams and because he wanted his players to pace themselves. Although The Times’ Mike Bresnahan reported Bryant privately wanted to pursue the record in the 2009-10 season, he publicly downplayed the importance of it. He often bet the training staff how many wins the Lakers would need to open the season before the media would ask about the record. Most of the other Lakers players stressed the sole need in winning a championship.
“Some guys are scared to say stuff,” World Peace said. “They make a prediction, and if they don’t reach that prediction, you have to deal with the pressure of everybody talking about you. Then, what happens if you don’t reach it and the season is still on? I just do what I want to do and say what I want to say. I probably shouldn’t have said it.”
But World Peace refused to back down from his prediction.
His outspoken nature about it should hardly surprise Laker fans. He remains eager to stay in the spotlight, which includes playing host to a charity driven comedy show Thursday at the Laugh Factory. Last month, World Peace admitted that he wants the public to blame him if the Lakers don’t win a championship next season. He argued the same thing when he first arrived here in 2009.
But can World Peace back up those words the same way he did when he helped the Lakers win a championship his first season with the team?
The 1995-96 Bulls team featured a superstar (Michael Jordan), a sidekick (Scottie Pippen), a zany but reliable specialized player (Dennis Rodman, in this case, rebounding) and a pretty big supporting cast (Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, Bill Wennington). The current Lakers team also boasts a superstar (Bryant), three sidekicks (Nash, Howard, Gasol), a zany but reliable specialized player (World Peace, in this case, defense) and a pretty big supporting cast (Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill).
That Bulls team also backed up their strong talent with superlative play. They led the league in scoring (105.2 points a game), were third on defense (giving up only 92.9 points a game), had an 18-game winning streak, lost only two home games and won an NBA-record 33 road games.
What will be the key for the Lakers to surpass that?
“It’s just about listening to Coach,” World Peace said, referring to Mike Brown. “It’s pretty simple. We definitely want to [break the record]. But the most important thing we have going on here is winning the title.”
With World Peace boasting publicly that the Lakers could also set the NBA regular-season wins record, he might be setting himself and his teammates up for extra scrutiny.
“I don’t care,” World Peace said. “That’s not a distraction. We’ll just go play. We’ll have to play regardless, whether we get the record or not. I know there are a lot of great teams in the NBA, but we’re up there.”
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