Even before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle required media members to have an ironclad opinion 10 minutes after something happened, I have always been a more patient sort.
Yes, a record 24 straight wins to start the season got my attention. But that is less than one-third of an NBA campaign. Over the course of 5 1/2 months and 82 games, teams slump. Teams get disinterested and lazy. And in this era, teams smartly rest their top players to better prepare for the postseason.
But by beating Oklahoma City with a late surge Saturday night, the Warriors are 46-4.
The common belief is that matches the best 50-game start in NBA history by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who hold the record with 72 wins.
Wrong. The Warriors are ahead of those Bulls, who were 45-5. Common misperception II: It matches the best start by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who previously held the record with 69 wins.
Wrong. The Warriors are ahead of them, too. Those Lakers were 43-7, despite a record 33-game winning streak. Actually, it matches the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers, who previously held the record by going 68-13 in an 81-game season. (By the way, that season included 15 neutral-site games, two sets of four games in four nights and eight more sets of three games in three nights.)
What those three teams have in common is that they either stumbled a bit or came off the gas down the stretch. After getting to 46-4, the Sixers lost four of their next five games. The Lakers were 39-3 before losing four of six, then dropped two in a row in late February to fall to 59-12 before closing strong. The Bulls took four losses in April, including two at home, where they had not lost all season.
There have been a handful of other teams whose stumbles or decelerations have cost them a shot at the record. The 1982-83 Sixers were 50-7 before they began resting players in the final month. They finished 65-17, then went 12-1 in the postseason, nearly pulling off Moses Malone’s playoff prediction of “Fo’, fo’ fo’.”
And the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks had a stretch where they won 61 of 68 games. Unfortunately, they also lost their first four contests and four of their last 10. They also went out in the first round of the playoffs, but Warriors fans already know that story.
The Warriors have a couple of factors working in their favor. One is when they have stumbled, they have quickly regained their balance. They have yet to lose two in a row – no NBA team has ever made it through an entire season without losing consecutive games – and their worst stretch is two losses in three games, immediately rectified by their current nine-game winning streak.
Another is the Warriors don’t lose at home. Ever. They are 23-0 this season and have won 44 straight regular-season games at Oracle Arena since Jan. 27, 2015. In that respect, they are very much like the 1995-96 Bulls, who won their first 37 home games before losing two of their last four.
And unlike most of the teams here, the Warriors are being pushed by the San Antonio Spurs (43-8). This is the first time in NBA history that two teams had won at least 42 of their first 50 games in the same season.
Of the teams mentioned above, the only one that can say it was truly being pushed was the 1971-72 Lakers. The Milwaukee Bucks were the defending champions, had ended the Lakers’ record streak on national TV and were 39-11 after 50 contests, just four games behind the Lakers.
That is the same margin in the loss column currently separating the Warriors and Spurs. Stranger things have happened, but that margin figures to get wider over the rest of the season, if only because Golden State has five home games in hand on the Spurs.
Below is an examination of Golden State’s remaining schedule and possible stumbling blocks.
GAMES VS. ELITE TEAMS: The Warriors’ schedule was backloaded with challenging games, likely to keep the networks happy. They are done with Cleveland but have played Oklahoma City and San Antonio just once apiece. They have two games left with the Thunder, three with the Spurs and two with the Los Angeles Clippers, a good but not great team that has a healthy hatred for the Warriors.
Four of those games are on the road, but it also should be noted that two of the games vs. the Spurs are in the final week of the season, when seedings could be settled. Those could be chess matches, with both teams resting players and not giving the other any extra full-strength looks to break down on DVD.
Golden State could go 5-2 in those seven games but also could go 3-4 if it is resting players. Given the fact that its coach rested/recuperated for the first half of the season, that is a distinct possibility.
LONG ROAD TRIP: The Warriors start their second seven-game road trip of the season Wednesday at Phoenix and also visit Portland, the Clippers, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and Oklahoma City before their next home game in March. In its first seven-game trip, Golden State won the first six before losing at Milwaukee.
No NBA team has ever swept a road trip of at least seven games, so you have to figure a loss is in there somewhere. If that loss is to the Clippers or Thunder, it may kill two birds with one stone because it also is a game vs. an elite team. However, the Spurs will be on their “Rodeo Road Trip” at the same time, and if San Antonio stumbles with a couple of losses, that could allow Golden State to relax a bit, which is simply human nature.
When the Warriors return from that trip, 17 of their 24 remaining games will be at home, where — again — they don’t lose. Ever.
BACK-TO-BACK GAMES: The Warriors have eight back-to-back sets remaining. None of them combine to create a four-games-in-five-nights scenario. They have had 12 sets of back-to-backs thus far and are 11-1 in the second game, losing only at Milwaukee — a game in which Harrison Barnes was sidelined, Klay Thompson was not fully recovered from a sprained ankle, and the Dubs were coming off a double-overtime win in Boston.
Of the remaining eight, the back ends that look tough are Feb. 20 at the Clippers, March 17 at San Antonio, March 30 at Utah and April 10 at San Antonio.
What should not be overlooked is that Golden State’s four losses are to teams currently a combined 16 games under .500. Although it is a very small sample size, the Warriors have shown that they can be beaten when they are not clicking or entirely healthy.
MATHEMATICS: Here are some simple equations to consider. If the Warriors win all of their home games, they still have to go 9-5 in their remaining road games to get to 73 wins. They are one of just three teams who have played at a higher clip than that on the road this season.
If the Warriors play .750 ball the rest of the way – a pace that produces 60-plus wins over the course of a season – they only get to 70 wins. If they play .800 ball the rest of the way – a pace that produces 66 wins over the course of a season – they get to 72 wins, which ties the record but doesn’t break it.
ONE LAST THING: The Warriors have two days off before their season finale on April 13, a home matchup vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, who may need the game for seeding. They have started the playoffs on Saturday rather than Sunday each of the last three seasons, losing the extra day off. If they have 71 or 72 wins entering that game, do they rest their starters and give them nearly a week off before the postseason, or do they go for it? Lots of online sportsbooks are taking action on the possibility, and this site can help you sort those options out.
TRIVIA: Who is the only 2016 All-Star who played four years of college ball? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: For the first time, big men will compete in the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend. Among them are 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins (fifth in the NBA with 3.7 turnovers per game) and 6-8 Draymond Green (17th, 3.0). “(Cousins) has to be humble,” Kings point guard Rajon Rondo said. “He thinks he’s a point guard and he thinks what we do is very easy.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Minnesota Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell, somewhat joking after watching the retiring Kobe Bryant light him up his team one last time for a season-high 38 points:
“I hate him. If I don’t ever see him again, it won’t be too soon.”
TANKS A LOT!: By beating Brooklyn on Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers are just four games in the loss column ahead of the Nets in the race for the worst record. They did nothing to help themselves and everything to help the Boston Celtics, who own Brooklyn’s first-round pick.
LINE OF THE WEEK: Stephen Curry, Golden State at Washington, Feb. 3: 36 minutes, 19-28 FGs, 11-16 3-pointers, 2-3 FTs, seven rebounds, two assists, three steals, seven turnovers, 51 points in a 134-121 win. In somewhat of a slump with just 50 points in his previous three games, Curry erupted for his second-highest total of the season as his 3-pointers fell one shy of the NBA record. He scored 25 points in the first quarter and was 13-of-14 from the field in the first half, eventually turning teammate Draymond Green’s 10th triple-double and opponent John Wall’s 41-10 in the same game into afterthoughts. “We watch it on TV every day and you look like, ‘Ah, it’s not like that,'” Wizards forward Otto Porter said. “But when he does it against you, it’s eye-opening for you.”
LINE OF THE WEAK: Jrue Holiday, New Orleans vs. Memphis, Feb. 1: 27 minutes, 1-14 FGs, 0-4 3-pointers, 2-4 FTs, one rebound, four assists, two blocks, zero steals, two turnovers in a 110-95 loss. After averaging 18.0 points and 7.0 assists in January – almost exclusively off the bench – Holiday began February with his worst shooting game of the season.
TRILLION WATCH: Not much of a week, as Portland guard Tim Frazier and Brooklyn forward Sergey Karasev had 2 trillions and top honors were shared by Orlando teammates Andrew Nicholson and Keith Appling, Utah guard Erick Green and Detroit guard Reggie Bullock, all of whom had 3 trillions. Sacramento forward Quincy Acy had a block to ruin a 6 trillion Friday at Brooklyn and Indiana guard Glenn Robinson III had an assist to wreck an 8 trillion Saturday vs. Detroit. The season leader remains Milwaukee rookie Rashad Vaughn and his incredible 12 trillion vs. Atlanta on January 15.
GAME OF THE WEEK: San Antonio at Miami, Feb. 9. This is the start of the annual “Rodeo Road Trip” for the Spurs. This year it is eight games – three on national TV – over 19 days, including the All-Star break. San Antonio doesn’t play at home again until March 2. The Heat have not beaten the Spurs since Game 2 of the 2014 NBA Finals.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Rising Stars Challenge, Feb. 12. It’s a whole bunch of young Sixers, Lakers and Timberwolves vs. a squad that includes Clint Capela, Mario Hezonja and Raul Neto. Oh, and no one is going to play any defense. What’s not to like?
TWO MINUTES: Since entering the NBA in 1976, the Indiana Pacers had never lost when outrebounding their opponent by 20 or more – until Friday, when they held a 53-32 advantage on the boards in a 102-96 loss at Atlanta. … There’s a nice race heating up between Utah and Portland for the West’s final playoff spot. The Jazz (25-25) have been sparked by the returns of big men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors and have won six in a row to match their longest winning streak under coach Quin Snyder while allowing just 85 points per game. The Trail Blazers (25-27) went 5-2 on a recent homestand before stifling Houston, 96-79, on Saturday. They have gotten a boost from veteran reserve guard Gerald Henderson, a sometimes forgotten man who has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games. Portland holds a 2-1 lead in the season series and hosts the last meeting on Feb. 21. … The Spurs are 16-0 this season when LaMarcus Alridge leads them in scoring, including three wins this week. Aldridge had back-to-back season highs, dropping 28 on Orlando on Monday and 36 on New Orleans on Wednesday. … Last week, we asked for the NBA’s voice to be heard on the water crisis in Flint, Mich. While other NBA teams have been wearing T-shirts marking Black History Month, the Pistons on Thursday won T-shirts reading “FLINTNOW.” In addition to Pistons owner and Flint native Tom Gores offering to raise $10 million, players and executives are coming up with another $500,000. Nice job. More is needed. … When the Cavaliers lost to the Hornets on Wednesday, LeBron James saw his all-time record vs. Charlotte drop to 41-6. … Four of the five longest current consecutive games played streaks have ended this season. In December, Damian Lillard’s 275-game streak came to an end. Last month, DeAndre Jordan’s 360-game streak ended. This week, Ben McLemore’s streak ended at 211 games and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s streak ended at 208. Tristan Thompson has the longest active streak. … Since the Barclays Center opened in 2012, the only NBA team yet to win there is the Sacramento Kings. … After Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist underwent shoulder surgery in October, the best prognosis was a six-month recovery that would allow him to possibly return for the tail end of the regular season. But the defensive-minded wing was back in the lineup last week and has averaged 12.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in 31.1 minutes over his first five games. His early return has given Charlotte another strong wing defender alongside Nic Batum and allowed coach Steve Clifford to stop relying on P.J. Hairston, who was averaging nearly 20 minutes per game and in over his head (.359 FG, 7.57 PER). Charlotte is 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the East.
Trivia Answer: Draymond Green. … Happy 56th Birthday, Scooter McCray. … Will George Karl still have a job the next time this column runs?
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.