Leading the Golden State Warriors to an unprecedented 23 wins to start a season, Stephen Curry says he’s “pretty motivated” to overtake Michael Jordan’s legacy as the greatest NBA player of all time. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Don’t cheapen streak: It’s 23, not 27

As a self-designated protector of The Streak, The Steph and All Things Historic about the Warriors, I don’t want anything to cheapen the ongoing proceedings. Gregg Popovich, a potential joyride obstacle whose San Antonio Spurs aren’t on the schedule until late January, tried a mind game this week. And, yes, it carried a cheapening effect.

He referred to the art of three-point shooting as “a circus sort of thing,” knowing full well that the Warriors are a band of trey-shooting acrobats.

“I’ll never embrace it. I don’t think it’s basketball. I think it’s kind of like a circus sort of thing. Why don’t we have a 5-point shot? A 7-point shot? You know, where does it stop, that sort of thing?” said the Spurs’ venerable coach and psychological ploymaster.

He did acknowledge, lest he be called a hypocrite, that the Spurs have relied heavily on threes in winning championships. And he did describe his opinion as “old-school.” But clearly, Popovich was doing what he does so often: Sending a message that he isn’t impressed by any bombs-away element in the sport. “And nobody does it better than Golden State, and you know where they’re at,” he said. “So it’s important. You can’t ignore it.”

Too bad Steve Kerr isn’t available for a retort. “Pop’s my guy,” he said before the season of his mentor. “I’m sure we’ll go at it, in fun.”

Nothing was funny about the “circus” crack. It wasn’t necessary, nor was it well-timed with the sports world hanging on every Warriors’ game, including tonight’s tricky test in Boston against a steadily improving Celtics team capable of ending the run after a 23-0 start. But if they do win on their sixth stop of a seven-game road trip — which will require Klay Thompson playing, and playing well, on a sprained ankle that shouldn’t be jeopardized if not better than his “70 percent” and “stiff” asessments of Thursday — I hope the NBA then will make an official determination on the actual length of this winning streak.

It should be 23.

It should not be 27, which also serves to cheapen a wonderful, pulsating story that should be wrapped in nothing but regal, airtight legitimacy.

The league is letting both numbers suspend over the rock show, allowing one place in its record book for “most consecutive games won, one season” and another place for “most consecutive games won” overall. It’s absurd to count the overall streak because, obviously, the postseason interrupted the two regular seasons — and in the Warriors’ case, they lost five times in the playoffs. Recalling Kerr’s hang-dog look when they were down 2-1 in Memphis, recalling Steph Curry’s daze after he conked his head on the Houston hardwood in a loss, and recalling Draymond Green’s diatribe when they were down 2-1 to the LeBrons in the Finals, we suddenly can’t have amnesia about those playoff struggles and dismiss that they happened. A new season is a new season, separated by a four-month offseason, and just as the Los Angeles Lakers won 33 straight games between Nov. 5, 1971 and Jan. 7, 1972, the Warriors and anyone else challenging that record should be confined to victories within a single season.

Yet after the Warriors won in Indiana the other night, the league tweeted this: “The #WarriorsStreak reaches 27 as the #SplashBros go off …” Why are Adam Silver’s people so bent on 27? Oh, maybe because the league, which recently signed a $24 billion rights deal with ESPN, is joining its business partner in trying to brainwash America into circling a must-appointment-TV date on Christmas Day. If the Warriors win in Boston and Milwaukee and return home to beat Phoenix, Milwaukee and Utah, they would head into a much-hyped-already holiday rematch against Cleveland at 28-0. The record-tying No. 33 would come Jan. 2 against Denver and the record-breaking No. 34 would come Jan. 4 against Curry’s hometown team, Charlotte, both games at Oracle.

In the phony domain of ESPN, with the league counting its megabillions and nodding in complete agreement, No. 33 would happen Christmas Day. In the shock of shocks, the network is smelling big ratings and money and ready to cash in with Curry, the world’s hottest and most yuletide-adorable athlete, facing LeBron, the aging monster who has criticized his team for lacking the Warriors’ “hunger.” On broadcast row will be Mark Jackson, the deposed Warriors coach. The ESPN public relations department probably is preparing the release right now about record numbers.

Please stop this duality now, commissioner Silver, and make a definitive call.

Or we’re going to confuse the people who count most — the fans, the ticket-buying consumers — who will hear on ESPN that the Lakers’ record would be tied Dec. 25 when other media will be reporting a Christmas victory as No. 29.

Of course, had the Warriors swept through the postseason without a loss, we’d be advocating the combined overall record. They’d have remained flawless, you see — like the 88-game streak of UCLA basketball, which included Luke Walton’s father, Bill; or the 90-game streak of the Connecticut women’s program; or the 47-game streak of the Oklahoma football team in the 1950s. But all the other historic team streaks — including the 17-0 Miami Dolphins and 20-in-a-row run of the A’s, featured in “Moneyball” — were accomplished in single seasons. So was Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. When Serena Williams and Jordan Spieth were gunning for Grand Slams, they would have been achieved in single seasons.

As for the Indianapolis Colts’ 23-game win streak, why do we never hear much about it? Because nine came in 2008 and 14 in 2009, with a loss in the playoffs in between. Exhibit A of streakus interruptus.

To a man, the Warriors don’t care which number applies. They just want to keep winning. “None of us want to lose and we don’t want to end that winning streak anytime soon,” Thompson said. “It’s a special thing.”

“It makes us bring it every night. I don’t think our guys want to lose a game, especially with less than our best effort,” said Walton, the undefeated/winless interim coach. “We talk to our guys about how special it is, what they’re doing. We emphasize why it’s happening, because our guys are paying attention to the details and putting the work in every day. They’re showing up and earning these wins. They want to keep the streak alive.”

Curry caused a stir when he told an ESPN reporter, after floating in a sensory-deprivation wellness tank on Lombard Street, that: (1) He’s the best player in the world; (2) No NBA team can copy what the Warriors are doing because “you won’t have the personnel;” (3) He wants to be the greatest player of all time and is “pretty motivated to take on the challenge” of topping Michael Jordan’s legacy, saying, “Why else would I be playing? You want to be the best you can be. And if the best you can be is better than him, then why not? That’s good motivation;” and finally (4) He would hit the fallaway jumper over Jordan in a final-possession, championship-clinching moment.

“Right to left, step back. I knock it down,” Curry said.

And it wouldn’t have to be a three, Gregg Popovich.

The greatest of all sports streaks, it should be noted, continues to be padded by the Harlem Globetrotters. The other night, they sent a tweet: “Congrats to the @Warriors on their 27-game win streak. They’re now just 3,562 short of our current mark.”

Before quickly adding: “We’re starting to get worried though …”

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

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