Steve Kerr says the Golden State Warriors are “all in” on trying to break the Chicago Bulls’ record for most wins in a season — 72.
Kudos to Kerr for being honest – and for trying to make history for a second time. Don’t forget, Kerr was a player on the 1995-96 Bulls team that went 72-10. Most coaches would say “it doesn’t matter” – and they’d be lying through their teeth. But Kerr is a straight shooter (pun intended), and we need more guys like him on the sidelines.
But can the Warriors get it done?
Three of our writers – Chris Bernucca, Paul Ladewski and myself – were covering the NBA back in ’95-96 when the Bulls set the record. So you might say we speak from experience when we try to tackle this topic.
With that in mind, the three of us are taking on three questions related to the Warriors’ push to make history.
1. Steve Kerr says the Warriors are “all in” on breaking the Bulls’ record for victories in a single season. Smart move? Does the risk-reward factor merit it?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER/COLUMNIST: I am not as smart as Steve, so who am I to judge him? But truthfully, I am not sure it is the smartest move. Don’t get me wrong; I am all in favor of it from the standpoint of being a basketball fan. I have lost countless man hours of sleep keeping up with these guys, what with me living in New York and Dubs games usually starting at 10:30 p.m., so I feel I have something invested in this. But if the Dubs have the No. 1 seed in the West locked up with three games to go, those games become meaningless. You really want to put Steph Curry’s ankles at risk chasing something other than a second championship?
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR/COLUMNIST: What the heck, go for it. A couple of years ago, the Miami Heat were running away with the Eastern Conference and found themselves chasing the record 33-game winning streak by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. They went after it without any ill effects, primarily because their first-round series vs. Milwaukee was like a bye. The Warriors will have the same dynamic this year, especially if the eighth seed is Dallas. Golden State also has eight of its last 11 games at home, including contests vs. Philadelphia and Minnesota where they can rest people. They can have their cake and eat it, too.
PAUL LADEWSKI, BAY AREA COLUMNIST: What Kerr means is, to a man, the record is important to them. And it should be. The Warriors are in the midst of a once-in-lifetime season, and they’d be crazy not to milk it for all they can within reason. Along those lines, Kerr says the players will have input on when and how much they’ll be rested in the final days of the season. But as Kerr and his players have maintained for months, the record is not the priority. Set the record, then fail in the playoffs, and they’ll tell you the season is a failure. As long as the group doesn’t lose sight of the big picture — Kerr and Stephen Curry won’t allow it — they can achieve both goals.
2. Will they do it?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER/COLUMNIST: Well, they aren’t going to beat the Spurs twice. So that means their margin of error is one loss, since they need to go 9-2 to get to 73 wins. Also, they still have to play the Spurs twice, along with the Grizzlies twice, the Blazers and the Celtics. I’ll give them the pair of wins against the Grizzlies, because that team is made up of a bunch of guys on 10-day contracts. But the Celtics did take them to double OT, so that game bears watching. And the Blazers beat them by 35. I hate to doubt them, but I am a doubter in this case. I think they tie the record in the final game of the season against Memphis after losing to the Spurs on the road in the next-to-last game of the season.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR/COLUMNIST: First, a little basic math. Golden State has to go 9-2 to break the record. That’s an .818 winning percentage. Over an 82-game season, that is a 67-win pace. So it’s not going to be easy, regardless of schedule. The most troublesome games appear to be March 30 at Utah, which needs every win it can get to make the playoffs; April 1 vs. Boston, which grinds as well as any team in the league; and April 7 vs. San Antonio, in which the Warriors will face some pressure to show that last week’s loss at the Alamo City was an aberration. If they can get two of these games, they will get to 73 wins.
PAUL LADEWSKI, BAY AREA COLUMNIST: The biggest factor is health, of course. Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli have missed time lately. That’s three of their top nine players. Otherwise, the Warriors have a friend in the schedule. Seven of their final 11 game at Oracle Arena, where the home team hasn’t lost in 14 months. Do you realize that’s 862 Kardashian selfies ago? Four games bear a close watch. On March 30, the Warriors visit the sneaky Utah Jazz, who are in playoff race of their own. Two days later, they host the Boston Celtics, who nearly cut short their 24-game win streak in Boston earlier this season. The Warriors also have two games with the San Antonio Spurs, the first at home, the second on the road. The Warriors’ magic number to clinch the top seed in the West has dwindled to nine, and it’s possible the Spurs will be out of contention before the second matchup. In that case, coach Gregg Popovich almost certainly will rest players unless the Warriors are in position to break the record, in which case he may want to make them earn it. According to my Department of Sometimes Useless Analytics, the Warriors will lose one, possibly two games the rest of the way. That puts them at 72 or 73 victories, a mark that will stand until next season, by which time the Dubs will have signed Kevin Durant and finished with an 80-2 record.
3. Whether they do it or not, is Stephen Curry a legitimate contender for Most Improved Player?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER/COLUMNIST: He is indeed a legit contender, because his numbers are up so much across the board — I mean, c’mon, he’s chasing 400 3s? — that it is irrelevant whether he was the MVP last season or not. He is much better; his team is much better; his star power is infinitely brighter. Those are major factors. But it is unprecedented for a regning MVP and sure-thing unanimous MVP to be given a Most Improved Player award, and some people are just not going to bite on that — especially with the seasons C.J. McCollum, Draymond Green and Kemba Walker are having. I remain undecided.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR/COLUMNIST: Stop it. Right now. I know what the numbers are. Do you? Yes, his scoring is up, but his assists are down. For all of the hoopla about his 3-point shooting, it is one percentage point better than last season. In short, he has increased his usage rate and has taken more shots, both overall and from the arc, while connecting at a slightly better rate. Curry’s improvement is very similar to the jump LeBron James made from his second to third season and Kevin Durant made from his sixth to seventh season, and they didn’t win Most Improved Player. Now if you want to talk about Draymond Green’s MIP candidacy, let’s have that conversation.
PAUL LADEWSKI, BAY AREA COLUMNIST: Sorry, but this fish ain’t bitin’. The gap between the Curry of last year and the one of this year isn’t large enough to warrant serious consideration. As otherworldly as St. Stephen of Arc may be now, let’s not forget that he ranked first in steals, second in points and fourth in assists last season. The award should be reserved for players who haven’t made a significant difference previously or have come back from serious injury, not for All-Star types who already have achieved high levels. Really, how much better can a guy get when he’s the Most Valuable Player already?