Note to those who like to make historical comparisons ( and to those who believe history started when Al Gore invented the Internet: The Golden State Warriors are off to a better start than the Chicago Bulls team that set an NBA record with a 72-10 record exactly two decades ago.
Those Bulls started 5-0 before their first loss; these Warriors have already surpassed that. Back in November of 1995, nobody was talking about the possibility of the Bulls breaking the single-season record for victories, which was 69 by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. That discussion really didn’t begin until the Bulls played a perfect January and went from 25-3 to 39-3.
But the discussion of the Warriors having a shot at breaking that record has already begun, and with good reason.
They’re winning their games by an average of 17.8 points per game (entering Tuesday night’s game at Memphis), they have the league’s leading scorer (and Steph Curry’s 32.4 ppg average is higher than Michael Jordan’s 30.4 ppg two decades ago), and they are coming off a championship season in which they won an astounding 67 games in a very tough conference.
But a couple things to remember as we continue this conversation:
_ The 95-96 Bulls got four of their victories against expansion teams — the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors. Then again, those Raptors won 21 games and those Grizzlies won 16, and both of those totals may be higher than what we see from the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers this season.
_ The ’95-96 Bulls played in a conference in which only two other teams, the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers, won at least 50 games. The Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Clippers should all reach 50 this season.
But with those caveats out of the way, let’s take a look at what it would take for the Warriors to emerge from January with the same type of winning percentage — or better yet, loss total (3) — that was owned by those ’95-96 Bulls.
In fact, when you take a close look, it is not too far-fetched.
Between now and the end of January, the Warriors must play the Clippers (who they defeated by 4 points last week) only one more time, and they only have one matchup against the Spurs, a home game on Jan. 25 (they play two of their final four regular season games against San Antonio). They do not have any games against the Oklahoma City Thunder but have two against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If you look at the rest of their November schedule, only two games would seem to have the potential to be close: Nov. 19 at Los Angeles, and the following night at home vs. the Chicago Bulls.
In December, they open with six Eastern Conference road games, two of which are back-to-backs, with the second games coming at Brooklyn on Dec. 6 (chalk that up as a W) and at Milwaukee on Dec. 12 (the finale of a seven-game road stretch that begins on the final night of November at Utah). A five-game homestand follows, including their Christmas Day rematch of the NBA Finals with Cleveland, and they close the month with a road back-to-back against Dallas and Houston.
January includes four sets of back-to-backs, along with a two-game Eastern trip to Chicago and Cleveland on Jan. 18 and 20.
All in all, the Warriors will have played 48 of their 82 games by the time January ends — six games more than the ’95-96 Bulls had played at that point in their record-setting season.
Jordan’s Bulls had back-to-back road losses (to Denver and Phoenix) in two of their final three games prior to the 1996 All-Star break, and then they won 12 of their next 13, going 5-1 in back-to-backs, 2-1 on the second night.
After losing to the Knicks by 32 on the road on March 10, they went 8-1 over the remainder of the month, including 4-0 in a stretch of four games in five nights, then won eight of their first nine in April to break the record. They lost their final game of that season to the Washington Wizards, a sub-.500 team that missed the playoffs.
Golden State will have eight sets of back-to-backs in February, March and April, but they will never have to play four games in five nights, a product of the NBA’s new kinder, gentler schedule. (In fact, they do not have a single stretch of four games in five nights all season.)
Will they win 72 games?
Will they win 73 to break the record?
(Vote in these polls to see if our readers agree with you).
Thanks for voting. My answer is provided in this interview with Noah Coslov of CineSport … and it might surprise you.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.