The most anticipated moment of the 2015-16 NBA season, one that seemed inevitable a week ago, is now in jeopardy.
After the Golden State Warriors suffered an overtime meltdown at home vs. the 26-52 Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors will have to win their final four games to set the record for most wins in a season in NBA history.
That chase for 73 wins, beating the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 record, appeared to be a lock a week ago, with the Warriors needing to go just 5-2 over the final seven games.
Now, at 69-9, the task becomes significantly more difficult as they will have to beat the San Antonio Spurs twice in the next four games. One of those games is in San Antonio, where the Spurs have not lost all season.
After the meltdown against the Wolves, Warriors forward Draymond Green was brutally honest about the team’s attitude at this current juncture. And while it may sound alarming, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, nor should it worry anybody. Green told reporters when asked if the Warriors got caught up in the hype of chasing 73 wins (via ESPN):
“Honestly? Yes. I wouldn’t necessarily say caught up in the hype.
“It’s human nature to where, all right, kind of ready for the regular season to end. Talking 82 games, we get bored with that after a while. And that’s no excuse, just, I’m always give it to y’all real, and that’s about as real as I can be. It’s kind of at a point now where you’re ready for the regular season to be over.
“Now, saying that, we got to be a better enough ball club to continue to try to get better with these games and try and go into the playoffs the right way and not stumble in the playoffs, so, think that’s something we have to focus on. We got to try to finish out this regular season strong.”
Steve Kerr, who was on the record-setting ’95-96 Bulls team, shared a similar sentiment, saying (via San Jose Mercury News), “The same thing happened 20 years ago. Even the game [the Bulls] broke the record we played very poorly. This doesn’t surprise me.”
The Warriors are not a perfect team. As Kerr noted, they often try too hard to hit “home runs”, aiming for flashy passes and big, show-stopping three-pointers. They’re prone to turnovers, and their defence has slipped over the course of the season.
Yet, a look at the Warriors’ nine losses this season should quell any worries about how they will fare in the postseason. The Warriors have dropped games to the Mavericks (without Curry), the Pistons (who they won’t see again this season), the Blazers (who were spurred by a 51-point explosion by Damian Lillard, the Spurs, and the Celtics. The Spurs game may be the only loss of note. Whereas the Celtics played a hard-fought game, those two teams won’t see each other again this season. The Spurs are a legitimate threat to the Warriors, but the Warriors played short-handed against the Spurs and had previously beaten them by 30 points in their first meeting.
In other words, the Warriors losses are largely understandable. Perhaps more to the point, the Warriors have taken care of business this season — they’re 16-2 against the other top seven teams in the NBA this season.
It’s natural for a team this good to play down to competition. Additionally, each night, regardless of their opponent, the Warriors are getting every team’s best shot — everyone is up to play the Warriors and nobody wants to be on the wrong end of history.
The Warriors have spoken at length about their chase for 73 wins, admitting in recent weeks that they want the record. That may still be the case over the four remaining games, but this is a team itching for the postseason, tired of the grind of an 82-game schedule. As the Warriors have noted several times, winning 73 games is ultimately meaningless — they care most about winning the championship.
When the playoffs begin, it will be a new season for the Warriors, and as they have shown this regular season, they have handled true opponents with ease.