In one sense, I wince about the Warriors because they’re inviting the Invasion of the Numbers Nerds, a storm of maddening projections and algorithms about the algebraic/geometric meaning of an 8-0 start. But in a purer context, this team is beautiful because it allows real basketball cognoscenti to do what we don’t do enough of in sports.
The ultimate objective for a once-ridiculed franchise, having revolutionized the game with the most dynamic and rootable athlete in the land and now just months from shoveling dirt for a Mission Bay arena, is to jackhammer a special place in history. To do so, the Warriors not only must win multiple NBA titles but spin some transcendent milestones. Already, before TV voice Bob Fitzgerald has caught his breath, those opportunities are upon them.
Even without coach Steve Kerr, who at least has resumed his post-practice swish-only shooting contests with Steph Curry, the Dubs have looked dominant enough to spur talk of a 70-victory regular season. That has been accomplished only once — by Michael Jordan’s finest creation, a 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team coached by Phil Jackson and also including Scottie Pippen … and Steve Kerr — and it has been assumed they’ll have the Seventy Club to themselves because modern challenges and logistics are too daunting.
But who knew that Curry, with those light-beam drills that have provided neurological advances never considered by James Harden as he dates Khloe Kardashian, would be even better this time? And in turn, who knew Curry would declare the Warriors as “better” and “more composed” than the team that won 67 games — three short of 70 — last season? And who knew that they’d rumble through their first eight games with a 17.8-point average victory margin, placing them second all-time in that span behind the Jordan Bulls of 1996-97?
It’s too tempting not to ponder the possibilities. The Warriors have played 90 regular-season games since the start of last season and have lost just 15. They are 44-2 at home in that period. Counting the postseason, those numbers swell to 91-20 overall, 53-4 at home. There is only one description for this speed train — sustained supremacy — and not a peep has been heard lately from critics such as Harden, Doc Rivers and Charles Barkley. Now, shows like “Inside The NBA” are discussing whether the league’s only unbeaten team can rattle off the best start ever, which would be 16-0, one better than the current mark held by the 1993-94 Houston Rockets and 1948-49 Washington Capitols.
If the Warriors pull that off, with No. 16 coming ever so sweetly against an ancient Kobe Bryant and raw Lakers teammates eventually to be coached by Luke Walton, well, everyone will be talking 70 — or even 72. And don’t think it would be greeted warily by Curry and the players. When the Big 72 was dropped on Klay Thompson at a recent Google event, he didn’t make promises — but he didn’t surrender, either.
“That’s going to be a tough one. We’ll try,” Thompson said. “There are so many good teams. We’ll try. We did get 67 wins last year, which was an amazing feat. We might be able to get 70. It’s going to depend a lot on health, obviously, and a lot of lucky bounces that go our way.
“Seventy-two wins, that’s a lot of wins, man. I don’t know if that will be done again, but, hey, we might be the team to do it. And if we stay focused and we take every game serious, we should have a chance to reach 70. It won’t be easy. It will be extremely difficult, but you know what? Why not?”
Why not dream?
This team is in such command of its formula — high-speed offense fueled by lockdown defense, deep bench, intimidating home arena — that it can afford Kerr’s absence as he continues to battle post-surgical health woes. Thompson had an early shooting slump due to back soreness. Andrew Bogut was popped in the head and missed time. Didn’t matter. Nothing bothers the Dubs. It’s quite early for the vanquished to voice frustration, but there was Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy the other night, complaining that the Warriors run illegal screens, and there was Rivers, whining last week that Curry beat him on a play drawn up by assistant coach Alvin Gentry when he was with the Clippers.
So, what stops them? How about travel? Thanks to their northern California base, the Warriors will fly an NBA-high 53,575 miles this season — 18,500 more than LeBron James and the Middle America Cavaliers, a figure to remember if we have an NBA Finals rematch. They left Tuesday on a four-hour flight to Memphis, which somehow is in the Western Conference, and after a game tonight against the Grizzlies, they’ll immediately fly two more hours to Minnesota to face Andrew Wiggins and the surprising Timberwolves on Thursday night. Yes, every team has back-to-backs. But no one flies more miles to and ‘fro than the Warriors.
Health, of course, is the critical requisite. Can the Warriors possibly avoid major injuries two years in a row? Will teams try to intimidate Curry with overly physical tactics, as the Pistons did? Or will a deep, rich bench continue to allow Walton to rest the principals more than most coaches could? “That’s one of the great things about our team: Our second unit, we feel, is the best in the NBA,” Walton said. “We’ve got great chemistry and veterans who know how to win. It just makes us that much more dangerous.”
Complacency shouldn’t be an issue, not as Curry burns to disprove the critics and the likes of Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are addicted to the feral high of dominance. And the West may not be as fearsome as originally forecast. Walton warns, “I think it’s human nature to let down. It’s so hard to win a championship; you fight through fatigue, the long NBA season, and then the playoffs take a toll on you. Then, a couple of months later, you are trying to do it again. It’s just natural to have a letdown. I’m sure at some point during this long season we will have one. We’re grateful we haven’t had one yet, and it’s up to the staff to prepare the guys for everything and up to the players to want it as bad as they did last year.”
Having 16-0 as an impetus only helps.
Kerr, certainly, would be putting the kibosh on such talk. Last season, when the Warriors started 21-2 and won 16 straight, he was apoplectic when the Big 72 was uttered. “Oh God, no. No!” he said, refusing to allow the Warriors in the same solar system as the Bulls.
“We had this guy named Michael Jordan,” he said. “What I remember that year is there were about 10 games where Michael just decided, ‘We’re going to win.’ And every other team on Earth would have lost those 10 games. And Michael was … there’ll never be another one. Nobody has ever come close, and I don’t think anybody ever will. He wanted to break that Lakers record of 69 wins, so he decided we would do it, so we did it. There’s only one Michael.”
But now, a year later, there’s also only one Steph.
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.