The only sensation better than perfection is when it’s done with swag and chill, a sculpture on ice. That describes the Warriors, who simply smile and fire up more practice jumpshots as the basketball world around them buzzes and shrieks. As they prepare to plant another milestone in time — 16-0, round and aglow — they are hearing more noise, more tributes, more doubts.
And yet they maintain the same, smooth, unencumbered laser-focus, not caring what anyone says, including any lingering naysayers who can’t possibly exist. “If they doubted us before, we won the championship — so it didn’t matter,” Draymond Green said. “If they don’t doubt us now and we lose, it doesn’t matter. So, in other words, the doubters don’t matter.
“People can say what they want. We’re trying to win another championship. That’s what we’re fueled by. I think we’ve gotten greedy, but it’s a good greedy. I think it’s way better to be greedy for success than hung over on success, and I think we’re on the right end of the spectrum. All the pieces are in place for us to do something great, and we’re on our way. But it’s a long way away. That’s our focus.”
Everyone’s talking anyway. Pat Riley is daring to drop the d-word, making him the first member of NBA royalty to do so. “They are in the beginning of something that can be dynastic. They’re in the beginning stages, and that’s the scary part, versus somebody that catches lightning in a bottle one time,” said the Miami Heat president, who already compares Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to the elite backcourt duos of all time. “They’re at the beginning because all of their key players are young and talented. The ones that aren’t have what I call youth-age, like Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston — those guys bring an element to the team is incredible.”
He sounds resigned, having watched his own minidynasty crumble when LeBron James returned home to Cleveland. “It’s going to be very difficult to challenge them,” Riley said. “But that’s what we’re here for.”
Technically, that’s why the Los Angeles Lakers are at Oracle Arena tonight, to challenge the Warriors as they eye the NBA record for most consecutive victories to start a season. Barring a natural disaster or the family dog biting Curry’s shooting hand, that’s not going to happen, with secondary-market ticket prices and local television numbers at all-time franchise highs. After all those years of coming to Oakland and dominating the lowly Warriors, mocking them, how fascinating to see the script flipped now for 37-year-old Kobe Bryant, the perfect victim for a crazed audience watching the broken-down great in what likely is his final season and possibly his final Oracle appearance. Of course, their ancient nemesis will try his damndest to win, but a team hindered by raw youth — and one that may be coached next season by Warriors interim coach Luke Walton, assuming he’d want the job — is 2-11 while an aching Bryant has trouble staying upright.
“I’ve seen stranger things happen,” Kobe said of disrupting history. “We’ve been playing like [bleep]. We might go up there and play like gangbusters.”
To do so, he’d better get a crash course from Curry in the art of three-point bombing. After going 6 of 22 and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in a Sunday night loss to Portland, Bryant is 1 for 14 beyond the stripe the last three games and 14 for 70 this season. When he has a few days to rest between games, he is able to lift weights and recapture strength. But when he has only a day off? He looks like a man in pain, someone who is risking — like Peyton Manning in football — an agonizing final season that no one wishes to witness. Last week, he said his 20th season will be his last unless the Lakers suddenly show marked improvement. “If something changes, I’ll come back and play next season,” Bryant said. “If something doesn’t change, this is it for me.”
A broadcast booth beckons. Wouldn’t we love to see Kobe sparring with Charles Barkley? As a renowned Warrior-basher who isn’t convinced their rise is anything more than a one-year blip, Chuck keeps encouraging opponents to pound Curry, saying on TNT, “I think the way you play against the Warriors is: ‘I’m going to beat up Steph off pick-and-rolls. I’m going to make him play defense. Also, I’m just going to try to pound these guys on the boards.’ They have a small team, and I’m just going to pound them down low. Even if you go back and look at the Finals, Steph and Klay did not play great. Steve Kerr won the series, because he switched Iguodala onto LeBron and just wore him out. They struggled against the Cavaliers, who had one player. Before we hand them the championship, let’s just wait a little bit.”
Seems foolishness has no bounds. Fresh off singing “Auld Lang Syne” with Jimmy Kimmel, Josh Duhamel and some school mascots in the kitschy ESPN commercial hyping the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve, the mouthiest Laker, Nick Young said something incredibly dumb. “I think we should go in with the mindset of wrecking it,” he said of 16-0. “I think it would mean a lot for our confidence to go inside Golden State — that game means a lot to them — and put them out of their misery.”
Put them out of their misery?
Not even Green would respond to that brain fart.
“They are the best team in the league, and it’s not close,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “They’re the best team I’ve seen in a while. Basically I look at them as a fan when I watch them play. I love watching them because they do all the things we talk about. They share the ball. They play for one another. They play as a team.”
The line is fine for opponents who want to salute the Warriors but also are paid handsomely to beat them. James, who last week marveled about their hunger while ripping his team for lacking it, weighed in Monday with a head-game comment. “I think the most impressive thing is the way they’ve been playing at a high level for so long. I think it comes with a lot of health,” he said. “They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win, and that’s all that matters.”
He slipped that one in, the good-health angle, which sounds vaguely like Doc Rivers’ line about luck. Then there’s the stuff you just grin about, such as Mychal Thompson, the Lakers’ broadcaster and L.A. sports talk host, predicting that the team paying his salary will beat his son’s team. Replied Klay on KNBR: “You can’t blame him. It’s his job. He’s got to stick with the team that pays the bills. … I know he really doesn’t believe it deep down. I think he’s just doing it for entertainment value.”
When they win tonight, the next barrier will be 20. That’s the record for most consecutive victories to start a season in North America’s four major team sports, set in 1884 by baseball’s St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association.
Where would that victory come? In Charlotte, Curry’s hometown, where his favorite NFL team, the Carolina Panthers, is 10-0. That puts him at 26-0 on Thanksgiving morning.
“It’s a special time,” he said.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.