OAKLAND – During Golden State’s otherworldly 24-0 start, interim coach Luke Walton was asked how it felt to get no official credit for the victories. NBA policy is that only the permanent coach can accumulate wins and losses, so those victories went to Steve Kerr, who has yet to coach this season while recovering from back surgery.
The winning streak, which set an all-time pro sports record for consecutive victories to open a season, ended Saturday with a 108-95 loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee. Kerr obviously enjoyed the wins, but how did he feel about the loss when Walton first talked to him?
Walton smiled and said, “He told me he was furious with me, he was thinking about firing me, and that it was bullcrap that my loss goes on his record.”
Kerr, of course, was responding facetiously, demonstrating the easy dry humor that distinguished him as a broadcaster and is one of his strengths as a coach.
But the reality is that as much as the Warriors wanted to break the record of 33 consecutive wins by the 1971-72 Lakers, there was a sense of relief when they returned home to practice Monday and Tuesday. They resume play tonight when the Phoenix Suns visit Oakland.
“It was an unbelievable start to the season,” Walton said after practice Tuesday. “It was very special – what these guys did and what they accomplished as far as those records were concerned. But now that it’s done, it’s time to put more energy and focus on the constant improvement of our team, doing what we can to help our guys to stay healthy and put ourselves in the best position possible going into the playoffs.”
In particular, Walton said the Warriors have to significantly reduce turnovers. Golden State has averaged 15.7 turnovers per game. Twenty-five teams have averaged less than that. Then again, none of those 25 teams won 24 consecutive games.
“They’ve proven to themselves that ‘we can turn the ball over a lot and still win,'” Walton said of his players. “Obviously, that’s not the mindset we want because we’re preparing to play the San Antonios, the Clippers, the Grizzlies – that’s who we need to beat. You turn the ball over a lot against those teams and you make it very hard on yourself.”
Thus far, however, the Warriors have made it hard only on opponents. Yes, they’ve had to overcome some deficits. They have had a few close calls. But of their 24 victories, only nine have been by single digits. Their 13.1 point differential is only a shade behind San Antonio’s league-leading 13.2.
They are a dominant team and the championship has given them confidence and focus. It also has provided uncommon maturity. The Warriors’ five leading scorers are 27, 25, 25, 27 and 26 years old.
They are supported ably by 30-somethings Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut, but the leaders of their team are young and successful. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season and counting the playoffs, the Warriors are a staggering 107-21.
They are also intent on proving last season was not a fluke. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before this season that the Warriors were lucky they did not have to play the Clippers or Spurs in the playoffs. And in the Finals, Cleveland was handicapped by injuries, with Kevin Love unable to play and Kyrie Irving available for only one game.
The Warriors’ motivation, however, is very adult-like. Stephen Curry said Tuesday that observations like the one from Rivers provide incentive, “but I don’t ever let proving people wrong become the focus of what I’m doing.”
After winning the MVP last season, Curry continues to do very little wrong. He currently leads the league in scoring (32.3) and 3-pointers made (127) and is fourth in 2-point shooting (.584), 3-point shooting (.458), free throw shooting (.908) and steals (2.2).
He also is playing 34.9 minutes per game, which is not in the league’s top 10 but is more than the 32.7 he averaged last season. If the Warriors had not been playing so well, however, Curry would be playing less.
“Milwaukee would have definitely been the night we rested people, but it wasn’t fair to jeopardize what these guys were doing,” Walton said. “But our main goal is being ready for the playoffs, and now that the streak is over, we can get back and focus on getting ready for the championship run and the playoffs.”
The Warriors, however, are more than capable of another streak. They have already played 15 road games, which is tied for second-most in the league. Walton said, however, that attempting to break the all-time record for consecutive victories happens a maximum of once a season.
“If we get on another streak,” he said, “we’ll still rest them.”
The Warriors have followed their championship with a powerful message to the rest of the NBA. They clearly understand what it takes to win a title and they are going about the task meticulously and confidently. Fifty-seven games are left in the season, and the Warriors say they will focus properly on each one. But hang around them even for one day and one thing is clear:
They can hardly wait for the playoffs to start.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.