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Warriors Chasing History: Spurs pose a challenge on the path to 73 wins

With a little less than two months remaining on the ledger, one of the National Basketball Associations most mythical and untouchable records, the 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls in 1996, is beginning to crest on the horizon. As Stephen Curry and the 2016 Golden State Warriors continue their torrid pace through the regular season, this weekly series will track their progress relative to that all-time great Bulls team led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

While not quite so jam-packed as last week, this week's docket features four games in seven days, including the toughest possible SEGABABA for the Golden State Warriors -- a Saturday night excursion to the AT&T Center, where the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan has never lost a regular season game to the Warriors. After this week, the Warriors will have just two back-to-back sets left in the 2015 - 2016 season (one of which is, again, back-loaded at the AT&T Center).

The past seven days for the Warriors have been much like the Empire Strikes Back: lots of emotional highs and lows. The past week saw the return of swingman and Swiss Army knife Andre Iguodala, only for him to face a two-week minimum ankle injury off of a Damian Lillard hustle play. With Iguodala came the return of Warriorsian-style offensive synergy and defensive non-apathy, a game after being embarrassed by a Los Angeles Lakers team actively being undermined by its own coaching staff and front office. Klay Thompson came back to life after a shooting slump, only for Brandon Knight to nearly steal his soul on a wicked crossover. That all came as part of the Phoenix Suns' legitimate threat to end the vaunted Warriors' home winning streak -- a winning streak that the Warriors stretched past the previous high-water mark of 44 by the 1996 Chicago Bulls in a win against the Orlando Magic on March 7.

Indeed, highs and lows. The Warriors came out of the truncated five-games-in-seven-nights with a +6.6 point differential, with a 17 point loss weighing down the otherwise respectable +12.5 PD in their four wins.

The magic number of losses still available to the Warriors in order to achieve a record-setting 73rd win on the season is down to just three. Playing 82.4%-winning basketball vaults the Warriors to 73 wins, meaning the Warriors have to play like a 67.5-win team the remaining month-and-a-half in order to secure the all-time wins record. After watching the Warriors do exactly that last season (lower-than-overall-record Pythagorean notwithstanding), and seeing a slightly-home-favorable-schedule laid out ahead for the Warriors, one has to feel optimistic for the Warriors' odds.

Everything except injuries are in the Warriors favor. The schedule, as mentioned above, gives the Warriors ample time within the friendly confines of Oracle Arena. Perhaps most critical of all, two matchups with the Spurs will be duked out in the final week of play, which could well be the deciding factor in the standings, meaning Steve Kerr cannot afford to take the pedal off the metal at all.

The most incredible thing about this season is that a record-setting 73 wins may be necessary in order to secure the number one seed in the West.

2016 Golden State Warriors (59 - 6): March 13, 2016 to March 19, 2016

Despite picking up an unexpected road loss over the past week, the Warriors remained a full three games in front of the San Antonio Spurs thanks to a brilliant effort from the Indiana Pacers. Three is the magic number in a few ways: chiefly, the number of games ahead of the Spurs the Warriors have been for much of the latter half of the season, and the number of games remaining in which the two titans will meet on the hardwood. The winner of this best-of-three match up will have an inside track in the race towards the number one seed in the Western Conference Playoff bracket, which may end up being the pivotal factor in determining an eventual Western Conference Champion.

Since going 4 - 1 over the course of the previous week, the Warriors have also managed to keep their heads above the waters in terms of a record-setting pace. A 59 - 6 record puts them at a 90.8 win percentage, which prorates to 74 wins in an 82 game season. They're also a game ahead of the 1996 Chicago Bulls through 65 games, placing them at the best ever through 65 games.

Date Opponent Opp. SRS Opp. Rest (Days) GSW Rest (Days) 2016 Series Record (Differential)
March 14 New Orleans Pelicans (H) -2.92 1 1 2 - 0 (GSW +30)
March 16 New York Knicks (H) -2.18 2 1 1 - 0 (GSW +21)
March 18 Dallas Mavericks (A) -0.62 1 1 1 - 1 (GSW -3)
March 19 San Antonio Spurs (A) 11.02 1 0 1 - 0 (GSW +30)

Trends of the week: Like any good video game, this week scales its difficulty linearly. The opponents' SRS only climbs from awful to historically great, as the travel and rest slowly tilts in the opponents' favor. After a fairly pedestrian duo of the Pelicans and Knicks come to town in what should be easy victories for the Warriors, the team moves east a few time zones to face a struggling -- yet competent -- Mavericks team, before the Big Game on Saturday.

In an eerily similar fashion to last week, the Warriors have a combined one loss to all of this week's opponents -- the second-to-last team they face this week.

This week also sees the end of the longest home stretch of the season, with a game to the rested New York Knicks on March 16. This week sees two of the remaining six away games the Warriors will play this season, after a brutal road-filled February.

The toughest opponent of the week is the red-hot Knicks is so obviously the Spurs it feels redundant to speak of them. The Spurs are in the midst of a five-game homestand themselves. They have welcomed in the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, two physical teams that spend too much time wrestling with inner systematic demons to be true contenders. This week they will face the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers before their marquee heavyweight match against the Warriors.

Pulling a clean sweep of such a five-game slate, to push their own home winning streak past the 1996 Bulls' mark, would cement their status as the best team in basketball at the moment.

Miscellaneous notables: The Warriors only play in the AT&T Center on the second night of a back-to-back this season, while the Spurs play in Oracle on two and one night's rest this season ... Spurs - Warriors II is broadcast on ABC nationally, the only national game of the week for the Warriors; tune in early to listen to Hubie Brown subtly bemoan everything the Warriors live and breathe ... Minnesota is charging $354 for the remaining 12 available tickets, the highest listed price of any Warrior game this week.

1996 Chicago Bulls (54 - 6): March 10, 1996 to March 16, 1996

In the third week of March two decades ago, the Chicago Bulls suffered their worse loss of the year at Madison Square Garden against Patrick Ewing's Knicks. There were a few loose-thread similarities to the Warriors' own loss to the Lakers, including an aging opposing ex-superstar in Ewing (and Kobe Bryant), as well as the Bulls (and Warriors) having the advantage in days of rest preceding the bout. But perhaps the most telling similarity is the congruent calendar months: March is not a time for peak basketball focus or performance.

(Both the Lakers and the Knicks upset the Warriors and Bulls, respectively, in game 61 of the season).

Date Opponent Opp. SRS Opp. Rest (Days) CHI Rest (Days) 1996 Series Record (Differential)
March 10 New York Knicks (A) 2.24 1 2 3 - 1 (CHI +16)
March 13 Washington Bullets (H) 0.99 2 2 4 - 0 (CHI +47)
March 15 Denver Nuggets (H) -2.62 2 1 1 - 1 (CHI +15)
March 16 New Jersey Nets (A) -4.14 1 0 3 - 0 (CHI +32)

After the stunning 32-point loss in New York, the Bulls dispatched the remaining three teams of the week quickly and efficiently, with a +14.0 differential in their three victories. In an odd quirk that reveals some of our universe's many idiosyncrasies, the Bulls have an inverted version of the Warriors' schedule in terms of opponent SRS: starting with the hardest team off the bat, and finishing with the worst. Of course, the "best" team the Bulls will face has an SRS of 2.24, while the Warriors will face an opponent with an SRS north of 11; conversely, the worst team the Bulls face has an SRS of -4.14, while the Warriors face an opponent with a -2.92 SRS. In short, the Warriors' week is considerably tougher.

Miscellaneous notes: The Bulls and Warriors will both face the New York Knicks this week, meaning the Knicks have faced a team with at least 54 wins before March 17th twice in their franchise's history, another odd quirk ... The Nuggets picked up victories over both the Bulls and the Warriors, the only team in the NBA to do so. This also means that the Nuggets have accounted for 12.5% of the losses the Warriors and 1996 Bulls have suffered, an equal share with the Indiana Pacers, who bested the Bulls twice in 1996 ... Strange but true: of the four 1996 teams above, only the Nuggets are fielding a better team by SRS today than they were in 1996 ... Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets had a 93% free throw percentage with only a 53.5% TS% in 1996.

Team schedules, both contemporary and historical, and SRS data accessed from basketball-reference.com