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Warriors Chasing History: Golden State can only afford two more losses after falling in San Antonio

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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.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Respite is the key word. Rest those weary bones and heal those sore backs. It's what these Golden State Warriors so desperately need, and what the schedule maker so cruelly denied them months ago. The ides of March is now in the rear view mirror, a usual marker for lethargic acme in the NBA season.

Stephen Curry is tired. When he's not getting grabbed, clawed at, and manhandled, he's doing endorsement press conferences and running away from hordes of hoop enthusiasts like the athletic fifth member of the Beatles. Draymond Green is tired. When he's not banging for positioning against men with twenty pounds of weight on him and sprinting down the court like Usain Bolt's more barrel-chested cousin, he's working damage control for his mother's Twitter account or getting his heart checked by the team's doctors after his beloved Spartans fall in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Warriors are a vestigial echo of the team that began 24 - 0, and it's neither a permanent set-back nor entirely the result of their own arrogant follies. It's merely the attrition of psyche and physical well-being associated with the 82-game NBA season at work. Andre Iguodala is still sidelined from an ankle injury sustained against the Portland Trailblazers two weeks ago. Since last week's update, Andrew Bogut has joined his dynamic teammate as the latest victim of mid-March carnage. Iguodala and Bogut, along with the mending Festus Ezeli, comprise the entirety of the Warriors' sturdy interior defense and much of the dynamism of the Warriors' stingy perimeter defense.

Without Iguodala skulking around the perimeter, shading defenders with his candor-length arms and disrupting the outside flow of the opponent's offensive sets, the Warriors have been largely toothless in forcing and punishing opponents into turnovers. Without the two-headed chimera of Bogut and Ezeli, the paint has broadened and opponents have found daylight at the rim. Not that the defensive regression post-All Star Break is entirely due to injuries -- effort and night-to-night focus has been an issue long preceding the arrival of the injury bug. Injuries are a continuing storyline, however, and are certainly one of the leading storylines surrounding the team.

The magic number of losses still affordable for the history-seeking Warriors is down to just two after a hard-fought loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Alamo City on Saturday evening. In a valiant effort, with injuries, rest, preparation, and the home crowd all in the Spurs' favor, the Warriors scraped their way to an eight-point loss in a game that was much closer for most of the second half. The Spurs held the Warriors to just 79 points in what was the Warriors' second game in less than 24 hours, but managed a meager 87 points against a defense devoid of much of its defensive tenacity with three of its best defenders looking on from the sidelines.

The mental chess match between Steve Kerr and Gregg Popavich has already begun

Spurs - Warriors II, just the second part of what may well become an octalogy, ennealogy, decalogy, or polylogy should the two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals, showed the Spurs' coach Gregg Popavich efficiently, and effectively, counter the Warriors' preeminent MVP favorite Curry with a steady dosage of defensive adjustments that hampered the star guard into his worst shooting night of the season. Warriors coach Steve Kerr is now behind the eight ball in terms of how he will -- or will not -- counter these adjustments. There is a grand strategy of not wanting to reveal true trump card schemes until they are absolutely necessary which both coaches may be employing; in the interim, however, the smaller tactics of inter-game adjustments is fascinating to watch. Not for a very long time has this higher-level chess strategy been necessary simply to secure the Conference's highest seeding.

Golden State Warriors (62 - 7): March 20, 2016 to March 26, 2016

In the continuing trend of slightly decreasing workload, this week's trinity of games is slightly less of a strain than the previous week. The week begins with the culmination of a three-games-in-four-nights traffic jam with a trip to Minnesota to face a spry, wet-behind-the-ears, and eager team in the Timberwolves. These Timberpups fit the bill of just the kind of team that jumps on the Warriors early and wrangles out a win given the right conditions -- and the end of a truncated roadtrip following an emotional loss and without some of the Warriors' veteran presences is certainly the correct set of conditions to ferment an upset in.

Date Opponent Opp. SRS Opp. Rest (Days) GSW Rest (Days) 2016 Series Record (Differential)
March 21 Minnesota Timberwolves (A) -4.00 2 0 1 - 0 (GSW +13)
March 23 Los Angeles Clippers (H) 3.50 2 1 3 - 0 (GSW +14)
March 25 Dallas Mavericks (H) -0.25 1 1 2 - 1 (GSW +15)

Trends of the week: The rest slowly evens out as the week goes along. In keeping with tradition, the Warriors have a combined one loss to all of the week's opponents, and features a positive differential favoring the Warriors in each of the season series with this week's opponents. The Warriors have a fairly rhythmic cycle of one day of rest between each of the games this week, although the Clippers game will likely feature no prior preparation, due to travel and coach Kerr giving the tired boys a deserved rest day.

More generally, the Warriors aren't going to have a lot of time to prepare for any opponents until the playoffs actually start. The Warriors have not had a multi-day layoff since March 3rd, and will not get such a luxury until April 10, three days before the end of the regular season; in other words, it'll be over five consecutive weeks of at least two games every three days for the Warriors to finish out the year. That's downright brutal for an ailing team featuring multiple veteran contributors.

Luckily, only four more of those off-days (and two overnight flights from Oakland to Salt Lake City and Memphis to San Antonio in between back-to-backs) will be spent traveling, as the Warriors play just three more road games all season long. Two of them are on the second nights of back-to-backs, however, which somewhat dampens the good news. This week sees the first half of a four game home stand for the Warriors, punctuated by a quick trip to see the Utah Jazz before beginning a second four game home stand.

The toughest opponent of the week is a bit more ambiguous than last week. One could nominate the Mavericks on the merit of them defeating the Curry-less Warriors in fairly embarrassing fashion and playing the Warriors tough in one of the other two meetings so far this season (last week, in a closer-than-it-appeared loss). The Clippers, on pure talent alone, are a more formidable foe. Although the Chris Paul edition historically has matched up poorly against the Curry edition of the Warriors, the Clippers have played well against the Warriors in all three previous meetings this season.

In the end, the Clippers win the nomination for toughest of the week. Despite squandering huge leads against the Warriors, and making end-of-game garbage time runs to make the scores seem closer, the Clippers have at least been in the position of holding 20+ point leads over the Warriors and actually made the necessary runs to close the margins. The Mavericks were blown out of Oakland on a divine wind of threes in their lone visit to Oracle Arena so far this season, making their case a little weaker.

Miscellaneous Notables: In DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick, and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers could have the three individual leaders in FG%, 3P%, and FT% respectively, and still not have the individual leader in eFG% or TS% (Stephen Curry currently paces the league in that regard) ... ESPN has picked up the broadcast for the Clippers matchup; all of the remaining nationally broadcast games are currently for Warrior home games ... A win against the Clippers this week would put the all-time record between the two teams to 121 - 85, pushing the series to the second-highest win percentage for the Warriors against any extant team, narrowly surpassing the Warriors record against the New Orleans Pelicans, but still below their win percentage against the Toronto Raptors.

Chicago Bulls (57 - 7): March 17, 1996 to March 23, 1996

After recuperating a 32-point loss in Madison Square Garden, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls finished off their last week at 3 - 1. In this third week of March, the Bulls swept their three-games-in-four-nights slate, cleaning house against a hapless 76ers team and awful Kings squad (some things never change), before exacting revenge against Patrick Ewing and the Knicks in a match in Chicago. The Bulls finished this week off at Game 67, while the Warriors will finish their week off at Game 72 of their schedule.

Something of note, which is not immediately obvious to the uncurious observer, probably because it is rather clunky and inconvenient to pass down in the lore of the legendary 1996 Bulls squad: from here on out, the Bulls won't lose by more than one point in their final three losses. That's correct: the final three losses the Bulls suffered all came by a combined three points, which makes Jordan's Bulls a lot closer to an unlucky 75 - 7 team than a lucky 72 - 10 team. In fact, they lost by double digits only twice all season, while five of the Warriors' seven losses have come in double digits (and two by more than 20 points).

Date Opponent Opp. SRS Opp. Rest (Days) CHI Rest (Days) 1996 Series Record (Differential)
March 18 Philadelphia 76ers (A) -9.45 1 1 4 - 0 (CHI +63)
March 19 Sacramento Kings (H) -2.62 1 0 2 - 0 (CHI +42)
March 21 New York Knicks (H) 2.24 0 1 3 - 1 (CHI +16)


Once again, the Warriors have the tougher opponent between the two schedules and the Bulls have the easier of the two easiest opponents in each respective lineup of games. The Inconvenient Truth which none of the stuffy old timers will talk about when the huddle in hushed circles to bolster the mythos of the 1990s is that the league may very well have been weaker in the lower and middle class than it is today due to expansion teams diluting the talent pool, allowing dominant teams to be more... dominant.

Oh well.

Miscellaneous Notables: The most any of the three teams scored against the Bulls this week was 94 points by the Sixers, who somehow have a worse contemporary SRS than they did that year ... the 76ers were not the worst team by SRS in 1996; that honor was bestowed upon the -9.55 and 15-win Vancouver Grizzlies ... Michael Jordan, with no overtime games in the week, averaged over 39 minutes per game this week ... Scottie Pippen did not play versus the 76ers or Kings games ... Mitch Richmond directly accounted for 34% of Sacramento's points against the Bulls; his teammate Olden Polynice played 29 minutes that game and the team fielded an Offensive Rating of just 36 when he was on the court.

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