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The Warriors' Quest
by Larry Ness - 02/19/2016
Golden State’s Quest:
NBA fans have grown accustomed to “free form” All Star games but the 2016 edition was one for the record books, as the West beat the East 198-173. The two sides combined to attempt 286 shots, including 139 three-pointers. Most notable was the fact that a total of just SEVEN free throws were attempted, two by the West and five by the East. Indiana’s Paul George scored 41 points, just one shy of Wilt’s all Star record of 42 set in 1962 (the season he averaged 50.4 PPG) but it was OKC’s Russell Westbrook (31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals) who took home the game’s MVP award, for the second straight year.
The trading deadline was 3:00 ET Thursday afternoon and while big names like Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love were whispered to be available, the deadline passed with little fanfare. The league returned to the court Thursday night with a modest three-game schedule to begin the final eight weeks of the 2015-16 season (final regular season games will be played on April 13). Order returned as well, with those three games averaging 194.7 PPG, with the teams attempting an average of 169.3 shots (40 of which were three-pointers) and attempted an average of 41.3 free throws.
The NBA adopted an 82-game schedule beginning with 1967-68 season. Wilt’s Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA title the previous year (1966-67) with a then-record 68-13 record. Wilt was also part of the 1971-72 Lakers when that team went 69-13, setting a new record for wins in a season, while also winning a record 33 consecutive games (one which still stands). LA’s 69 wins were the standard until MJ’s Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in the 1995-96 season (some 25 years later), establishing a new mark. The Bulls would go 69-13 the following season (1996-97) and no team has been able to win as many as 69 since, no less reach 72. Note that all three of the above-mentioned teams also won the NBA title in the year they won at least 69 games (during an 82-game schedule) plus the 76ers of 1966-67, who won 68 games in an 81-game schedule, also took home the title that year.
That sets the stage for the Golden State Warriors’ challenge of matching or surpassing the 72-win Bulls here in the current season. The Warriors come out of the All Star break 48-4, the best 52-game start in NBA history (note: all team records reflect that of games played heading into the All Star game). Will the Warriors be able to do it? Take the Warriors’ current winning percentage of .923 and multiply it by 82 and one gets 75.7 wins, so clearly Golden State is “on pace” to do so plus actually has some “margin of error.” Before talking some more about the Warriors, let me note that the San Antonio Spurs entered the break with an .849 winning percentage which puts the team on pace for 69.6 wins. Could we see two, 70-win teams this year?
I’ll say no and NOT just because the Spurs were beaten 105-86 Thursday night at Staples Center by the Clippers (2/18). Rather, as we’ve grown accustomed to, Popovivch has regularly rested his older players throughout the season and maintaining a 70-win pace seems highly improbable. As for the Warriors, 72 wins is clearly attainable and maybe even likely. Golden State probably enjoyed the team’s eight-day reprieve from the constant media attention given to its quest to break the Bulls' league record of 72 wins. Note that the Warriors also own a 42-game regular-season home winning streak, which is just two games shy of that same Chicago team’s record of 44 straight home wins.
The Warriors had three players in Sunday’s All Star game, “Splash Brothers” Curry and Thompson plus the player every team would love to have, Draymond Green. The Warriors get back on the court Friday night in Portland (2/19) and last year’s MVP (Curry) said, "It's such a high stress environment everywhere we go and we play every regular season game, so to be able to just enjoy the entire night is something you want to be able to take in." The Warriors lead the NBA in scoring (115.5 PPG), in FG percentage (49.0%) and in three-point percentage (42.4%), Defensively, Golden St allows 103.0 PPG (to rank 20th) but the team’s defensive FG percentage of 43.0% ranks 1st, as does its defensive three-point percentage (31.4%). When a team is number one in shooting AND No. 1 in opponents shooting, it’s fair to say that team owns a deadly ‘daily double!’
Those of us involved in sports betting like to say that the great equalizer is the pointspread but Golden St is testing that premise as well this season, as the Warriors’ ATS record of 31-20-1 was topped by only San Antonio’s 34-19 mark at the break. Point-differential has always been a great indicator of a team’s strength and while San Antonio has had the league’s best mark almost the entire season to-date (it was plus-13.3 at the break), Golden St’s mark was not far behind, at plus-12.5. Note that the 72-win Bulls and the 69-win Lakers both finished their then-record seasons with a point-differential of 12.3. Coming out of the beak, BOTH the Spurs and Warriors had better marks.
Is winning back-to-back NBA titles a much loftier goal than reaching or surpassing 72 wins? Russell’s Celtics won 11 titles in 13 seasons, including eight in a row, but that’s an era which is “gone with the wind.” However, winning back-to-back titles, while not exactly commonplace, has hardly been rare. Magic and Kareem won titles in 1986 and 1987, as the Lakers became the first team to do so since Boston won in Russell’s final two seasons (1968 and 1969). However, the “Bad Boy” Pistons won the following two years, then MJ’s Bulls won three in a row. During MJ’s ‘hiatus,’ Hakeem’s Rockets won two straight, before MJ returned and won as second set of three in a row. The Spurs won in 1999 but then Shaq and Kobe led the Lakers to three straight titles. The Spurs followed with three titles in the next six seasons but never won back-to-back. Kobe led LA to back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 and the after the Mavs won in 2011, LBJ led the Heat to back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
One can slice it anyway one wants but achieving 72 wins (or more) is clearly the more difficult feat BUT it hard not to believe that Golden St will be left with an empty feeling if this year’s regular season is not followed by capturing an NBA title. So why not do BOTH? Win 72 games or more and win a second straight NBA title. Doing so would catapult this Golden St team into NBA lore. To be continued...