Millennials live in the now. They don’t want to hear about tomorrow because they realize today is tenuous, having grown up when planes were crashing into the World Trade Center and social media began to sabotage lives. As vibrant and profoundly impactful representatives of this demographic, Steph Curry and the Warriors aren’t yet pondering a future that could involve multiple NBA championships melding into a new Mission Bay arena.
Rather, they are focused on a three-week rainbow with a fantastic number at the end: 73. Reach that victory plateau, and they separate themselves from every other team that has played basketball on the highest level over a single regular season, including a Michael Jordan dynasty that is considered the optimum barrage of NBA performance. Their mission is separation, achieving a special place so they can be remembered for centuries, not hours.
“It’s there,” Curry said, “and we want it.”
At this point — their record is 63-7 after a sluggish 109-104 victory Monday evening in Minnesota — who are we to tell them no? Sure, if Curry feels even a twinge in an ankle once fragile enough to threaten his career, shut down the chase. Sure, if team-wide fatigue is causing a withering effect, shut down the chase. If any development in the final weeks imperils the larger mission of an encore title, abandon history and emphasize sensibility and mid-June sustainability.
But until then, 73 is doable for a unique reason: Unlike most teams operating in their stratosphere, the Warriors must keep winning to maintain a healthy distance from the San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed. That task became easier Monday when the Spurs shockingly blew a 23-point lead in Charlotte and let Jeremy Lin — remember him? — beat them with a fourth-quarter blast from his New York past. Two nights after his team had crept inside the Warriors’ psyche, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was livid at the lack of defense and angrily moved aside a bench attendant while huddling with his team in the final minute.
“It was an unfortunate loss,” Tim Duncan said.
The setback gave the Warriors room to exhale, even after a night when Curry and Klay Thompson still weren’t themselves (11 of 31 shooting) and Green and the bench had to carry the burden. “Those guys can’t do it for us every night. Other guys have to step up. To expect them to carry us for 82 games is absurd,” Green said on the TV broadcast after producing 24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks.
“I’ve said it many times: The strength of our team is our depth,” Steve Kerr said. “I thought we all looked a little tired, the coaching staff, too. They were all yawning in there before the game. It was a mentally-fatigued type of game. The grind of the season, 10th game in 16 games, that’s crazy. It’s not just the running and the flying; it’s getting ourselves emotionally revved up for 10 games. I just felt like we didn’t have a lot of juice. That’s why we needed all those bodies.”
Yet, the Warriors avoided a second straight loss, as they have all season. “That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of with all the numbers and records — if we can go an entire season without losing two in a row,” Kerr said. “That’s shocking. We’re not there yet, but we’re close. It’s remarkable competitive desire.”
With a dozen games left for each team, the Warriors have a four-game lead over the Spurs. But they also have two left against San Antonio. And anyone who saw the raw intensity Saturday night, when Popovich’s smothering defenders left scratches on Curry’s arms and harassed him into a dismal shooting performance, knows the Warriors don’t want to mess with home advantage and play Game 7 of the conference finals in the den of Popovichian doom. Kerr must keep suiting up Curry, Thompson and Green and keep winning.
But now, the Warriors can get their rest and make history, too.
Curry, who has hit only 10 of 35 shots and 3 of 21 three-pointers his last two games, insists he isn’t tired. How can he not be? In recent games, opponents have been switching onto Curry and Thompson and pressing them on the perimeter, leaving room for Green to do damage inside. But Kerr couldn’t afford to sit him too long Monday, with each of his 35 minutes necessary to win the game.
Curious as it sounds, the Warriors might naturally fall into 73-9 in the normal course of fending off their biggest rivals. So there really is no debate about whether the Warriors SHOULD chase the record, set 20 years ago by a Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10. The question is whether they WILL get it. And if they once were blase or noncommital about it, now they’re adamant.
“We want to break that thing,” Green said. “Hey, we’ve won 11 games in a row this season, so there ain’t nothing we can’t do. It’s possible. We’re going after it.
“I want that pressure. I like the pressure, so I’m not going to shy away from saying we want the record. Absolutely, we want it, and we’re going after it.”
Echoed Curry, in somewhat calmer tones: “Yes, it would be a huge accomplishment, as long as we do it with the big picture in mind. I do think we can accomplish it if we stay true to who we are and don’t get distracted with playing for the record with our bigger goals in mind.”
Thus, the next 12 games will involve drama instead of drudgery. While Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut continue to sit with short-term injuries, joining Festus Ezeli in his lengthier absence, Kerr is navigating the urgency of continued winning with the urgency of playoff-necessary rest. The Warriors are fortunate that the schedule is favorable to winning 73; eight of their next nine are at home. though in rat-a-tat-tat fashion. After a usual manic battle Wednesday with the Clippers — their likely second-round playoff opponents — only three are mildly concerning (Dallas, Boston, Portland). Sandwiched in the middle is a game at Utah, possibly tricky.
At the end of the run come the Spurs, who could fall as victim No. 72 on April 7 if the Dubs don’t lose from now until then. They’d still have three left after that — two against Memphis wrapped around a rematch in San Antonio — and the Grizzlies have lost nemesis Marc Gasol for the season. See, 73 is doable.
And Curry says he’s not tired. So there. “It’s the NBA, man,” he said. “We play 82 games the same way, every year. We find a way to get it done. It may not be pretty, but we’re competitors and we hate that feeling of losing. When we’ve had a season like we’ve had, we haven’t had that feeling very much. It’s pretty impressive.”
What’s endearing about the Warriors is how they don’t hide their desire to establish history, yet do so in a way that doesn’t create resentment among opponents or the nation’s sports fans. To date, they’ve backed up their words, including Green, and when they speak candidly about their grandoise goals, their words comes off as refreshing. Having a big number out there, one the world is talking about, only stokes them.
This will, too: In the algorithmic extravagaza known as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, the latest postseason forecast came out Monday. The Warriors were given a 36 percent chance to win the NBA title.
The Spurs were given a 37 percent chance.
There is always a doubter to quiet.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.