The Golden State Warriors’ current extraordinariness has not won them back-to-back championships (yet?), but it has already achieved the feat of bringing back the memory of the legendary 1995/1996 Chicago Bulls team – the only team that can be compared to them at the moment. But out of the flourishing and sometimes out-putting ‘Could they surpass the 95/96 Bulls?’ memes, it is legitimate to ask ourselves that question: Could the Warriors REALLY break the 95/96 Bulls record of 72 wins in a regular season? My answer is bold, yet definite: Yes, they can. And they will.
Even President Obama has had his say on the debate that has been flaring up since the beginning of the 2015/2016 NBA season.
During the Warriors’ White House visit on the last Feb. 4, Barack Obama, a long-time Chicago Bulls fan, cracked a perfectly executed joke to temper the enthusiasm around the Golden State Warriors’ doozy of a season.
“It is rare to be in the presence of guys from the greatest team in NBA history,” he said. “So we’re pretty lucky today because we’ve got one of those players in the house – Steve Kerr [Editor’s note: the Warriors’ head coach], from the 1995/1996 Chicago Bulls!”
Capitalizing on a perfect 24-0 start, the Warriors have made their way to a dizzying 57-6 record, as they just began the last quarter of a wearisome 82-game regular season. At this stage, they are a short head ahead of 1995/96 Bulls’ pace (57-6), but the question on everyone’s mind is: Will they have enough fuel in the engine to put the nail in the greatest ever basketball team’s 72-10 record? Generally, they are pretty good in the last quarter.
Having said that, even the most accomplished soothsayer would be hard pressed to predict the outcome of this duel over time. But for the sake of the argument, I will hazard a guess on that: Yes, the Warriors will overshadow the Bulls.
That is my personal conviction almost since the beginning of the season. However, I decided to delay my article after (at least) a game that, I believed, could shift the momentum of their season to one side or the other – Golden State at Oklahoma.
Numerous were those who thought the Warriors’ Feb. 27 night date with tough customers Thunder could prove troublesome – and that is exactly what it did. Oklahoma City’s All-Star duo, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, gave the Western Conference leaders a rough time. They made the running nearly all game long. When Golden State was episodically taking the lead on the display panel, it was never by more than 4 points. Furthermore, the Thunder was still up 103-99 with 14.5 seconds left. Yet, a layup from Klay Thompson and two cold-blooded free throws from Andre Iguodala ensured the defending champions’ survival into an ardently disputed extra-time that left the two teams all square at 118-118 with 6.5 seconds remaining on the clock.
That is when the key to the deep throbbing fleshy heart of this champion team decided, once again, to let everyone astonished at his greatness.
Stephen Curry, 43 points to his credit in a night already filled with are-you-kidding-me moments, had saved the best for last. With 6.5 seconds remaining on the clock, he took the ball from Iguodala, made it past to the center of the court, noticed nobody was guarding him, and casually launched the ball toward the hoop from more than 32 feet out.
Even Curry’s fiercest opponent, Cavaliers’ LeBron James, had to doff his hat and bow on Twitter.
Stephen Curry is already the reigning MVP, but if he continues on the path he has set forth on, the always-tricky ‘year of the confirmation’ he is experiencing this year could go down in history as the best individual season of all-time.
With his unbelievable accuracy from absurd distances, Stephen Curry has thrown all basketball conventional wisdom out the window. As a consequence, he has raised the hackles of several former NBA stars, advocating for an old-fashioned, blood-and-guts basketball.
When asked about Curry’s ‘feeling of inevitability’ when he has the ball could relate to himself or Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley said, “He is not a great playmaker. He is just a great shooter.”
With all due respect to Barkley, ‘just a great shooter’ is a genuine understatement to describe a guy who has averaged 30.7 points per game so far this season, who broke his own record of 287 three-pointers six weeks shy from the end of the regular season, and who is that good that he gives headaches to the NBA 2K video game developers.
However, in the shade of the shiniest star, a collective of current and former all-stars – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala – is there to make up for the nights ‘Chef Curry’ cannot find the recipe for success.
Versatility and bench depth are probably the greatest strength of this Warriors team. Recently, observers wondered if Golden State should make a move towards future free-agent Kevin Durant during the next shoulder season in exchange of two, possibly three of their substitutes. Even if the idea of witnessing two giants of the game reunited under the same banner understandably arouses emotions among the general public, my opinion is that it would be a mistake. Indeed, there is no guarantee Durant would adapt on the fly – fresh recruit Lamar Odom’s failure at Dallas the season following the Mavericks’ title in 2011 epitomizes the risk of changing a winning team.
The Warriors have been extremely dominant this season. They notably blew out the second best team of the league, the San Antonio Spurs, by 30 points. But they also proved to be incredibly resilient. Narrow wins over the Los Angeles Clippers (twice), the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets, the Philadelphia 76ers and of course that drama-laden win against the Oklahoma City Thunder all testify to how clutch they are during crunch time. Except against the Nuggets, their six losses this season were by more than 10 points. It shows that you cannot beat this Warriors team if you do not put them away early enough.
Their latest loss against the Los Angeles Lakers was one of the most astonishing of history considering the two teams’ percentages of wins when they collided (.917 for the Warriors, .190 for the Lakers, namely the biggest ever gap between two teams at this stage of the season). It pointed out the little brittleness the Warriors are exposed to when both the ‘Splash Brothers’ Curry and Thompson have an off-day. But this phenomenon happens once or twice in a season, and the Warriors’ perfectly got back on track by defeating the Orlando Magic and breaking the 95/96 Bulls’ record of 45 straight wins. If they are looking for good omens in their pursuit of the 72-10 record, this one strongly resembled it.
Last night, the Warriors maintained their perfect home record at Oracle Arena (28-0) in a blowout victory over the Utah Jazz. Dating back to last season, the Warriors have won an NBA record 46 straight home games.
At least four Warriors’ losses out of their nineteen remaining fixtures (thirteen of them being at home) would keep the Bulls’ record alive. It is a pretty high number for the Warriors’ standards, but it is just small enough to preserve the suspense until the very end.
Nonetheless, do the 95/96 Bulls themselves want their record to stay relevant? During this season’s All-Star Game, Michael Jordan told three-point contest winner Klay Thompson that he would like them to break the record. It was the illustration of how great of a champion ‘His Airness’ is. He might be the unquestionable greatest player of all-time, but he wants the next generation to keep elevating the game, and it is very admirable of him.
About the prospect of breaking the record, Curry said: “When you go 24-0, your imagination just kind of goes crazy after that – how many wins can we get? But I think we’ve done a very good job of – and this is very cliché obviously – taking it one game at a time and that’s how we’ve gotten to this point. Twenty-four and zero was a crazy, remarkable start that set NBA history. The way we’ve played at home, not having dropped a game and just our overall level of play – we like where we are. We feel like we can get better; we haven’t really played our best of late and that’s a good challenge for us to find our A-plus game as we finish off this season.”
Curry continued, “we obviously know what’s at stake. We’ve just got to stay in the moment and enjoy it. This is a fun time and we’re chasing history, so we’ve got to be confident in who we are.”
Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. The Warriors may implode, but they may as well sprint through the finish line undefeated – after all, they went 24-0 to start the season, so why could not they go 19-0 to end it?
I personally think they will end up 74-8 – if you have made it that far through my article, it is time to take a screenshot in case my prediction turns out to be wrong.
Something tells me that Barack Obama, in turn, is quietly praying for a major collapse from his Oval Office.