The winners and losers in the mother of all streaks to start a season:
Winner: NBA. Save for the die-hards and fantasy geeks, most sports fans don’t begin to pay attention to The Association until the day after the Super Bowl, or Christmas at the earliest. But the Warriors gave the passive fan reason to follow it daily in the dead of the season. How long will the streak last? Will it ever end? Which team will break it? Who do the Warriors play next? When do they play?
The Warriors’ most overlooked accomplishment was this: They woke up sleepy NBA markets such as Charlotte and Milwaukee along the way. So out of control was Warriors mania on the last road trip, Brandon Rush jerseys could be seen at hotels and arenas.
Winner: Stephen Curry. If Curry wasn’t already the most dominant player in the world, then he all but settled the argument in the first two months of the season. He has become the Wilt Chamberlain of the 3-point generation, a force so utterly dominant that opponents have begun to double-team him 35 feet or more away from the basket.
Just askin’: If Wilt forced the rules-makers to widen the lane, will Curry prompt them to move back the 3-point line?
Even more impressive was how Curry went about his business. He was a more aggressive shooter than a season ago, but not at the expense of teammates or game situations. He didn’t berate fans or officials or even critics such as Charles Barkley. He accommodated the media and patiently answered many of the same questions over and over again.
After the Milwaukee Bucks finally beat Golden State on Saturday, guess what Curry did as the last player out of the Bradley Center? He met with a local cancer victim who had been a big fan since his college days.
Curry did chew on his mouthpiece incessantly throughout the streak, however. Hey, the guy still needs work.
Winners: Warriors. When several players insisted theirs would be a better team this season, many brushed off the comment as so much small talk. Wasn’t that what defending champions were supposed to say? Well, it turns out the champs are better. This is a more confident team that is less prone to slow starts. And they still have all that talent and depth that separate them from the rest.
One school of thought is that the Warriors may have peaked too early. While that is true record-wise, they are admittedly far from perfect. Especially at the tail end of the streak, they often were out of sync at one end and careless with the ball at the other. Now that their longest road trip of the season is out of the way, they can focus more on details and less on history.
Or as Draymond Green put it, “I told the guys, now we can have a regular season. There was kind of a playoff feel to this, just with the streak, all the media around, all the attention. … The last seven or eight games, we stopped getting better and just tried to win the game. Now we’ll get to back to what we know, and that’s to get better each and every day.”
Losers: Doubters and haters. Few if any championship teams in recent memory had more critics than the Warriors last summer. The disses only served to motivate Curry and company to no small degree. If the rest of the pack knows what’s good for them, they will keep their mouths shut for a while.
Loser: Dr. James Naismith. The San Antonio Spurs were the first to figure out the do’s and don’ts of the 3-point game. Skill-wise, however, the Warriors have taken them to another level. It is no coincidence that those two teams also the co-favorites to meet in the Western Conference finals, if not win it all.
But the question persists: Is that style really good for the game?
The original intent was the closer to the basket, the greater the reward. But like Naismith in his grave, the game had done a 180-degree turn in recent years. Why stop at 3-point bonus shots? Why not award points in 10-foot increments, i.e., four points for 40-footers, five for 50, etc.?
As silly as that may sound, it is no more absurd than to pass up a layup to take an open 25-footer on a fast break, something that we see more of every day.
Winner: Luke Walton. In the name of full disclosure, I was among the many who believed the Warriors could not thrive without Steve Kerr on the bench for an extended period. Silly me. Granted, the best thing that Walton did was not screw up a great team. The interim boss fit in so well in his first try that there’s reason to believe he can become a full-time head coach in the near future.
Lakers old-school coach Byron Scott has one year left on his contract, at which point the organization may want a fresh face with new ideas in the post-Kobe era. They could do a lot worse than Walton, a SoCal guy who played for the Lake Show in its glory days.
Winner: Jerry West. Not only did the Hall of Famer star for the 1971-72 Lakers, whose 33 consecutive wins remain the gold standard in professional sports, but the Warrior consultant helped assemble the team whose 28 wins in a row are the second-most ever.
Take a bow, Mr. Logo.
Loser: League record department. Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The Warriors won their final four games in the 2015-16 regular season, lost five of 21 games in the postseason, then won 24 in a row to start this season, which constitutes 28 victories in a row. And Walton was November Coach of the Month with a 0-0 career record because Kerr received credit for the victories while he recovered from a bum back.
Oh, now I get it.
Winners and losers: Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks have snapped the two longest streaks in league history, which kind of makes you wonder where they’ve been the last four decades. They also have ended six winning streaks of at least 12 games. The first five teams went on to win the title that season.
Losers: So-called experts: The Warriors triggered many a comparison to the legendary Lakers and Chicago Bulls teams, which made for some healthy debates. Sad to say, it also prompted remarks such as these from radio and television know-it-alls:
“Wilt Chamberlain was very good player, I’m told, but Andrew Bogut would move him way from the basket so he wouldn’t be as effective now.”
“I never saw Dennis Rodman play, but no way was he in Green’s league.”
So let’s agree on a new rule: The next time a team makes a record run, no fan or media can comment publicly unless he has actually seen the parties involved, lest he make a fool of himself.
Paul Ladewski is a veteran Chicago sports journalist who recently relocated to the Bay Area as the Warriors beat writer for the San Francisco Examiner. He is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com.