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.
In the inaugural piece in this ongoing series, the Warriors have a challenging week laid out before them -- if not due to quality of opponent, then at least through sheer quantity. Five games in seven nights, replete with two of the remaining five back-to-back sets in the season, are on the docket for the Warriors this week.
2016 Golden State Warriors (55 - 5): March 6, 2016 to March 12, 2016
The Warriors are currently in the pole position in both the Western Conference, and in the historical race against the 1996 Bulls. They're three full games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the Conference's top seed, and one full game ahead of the Bulls through 60 games -- but since the NBA season has changed a bit over the course of two decades, the Bulls, at this time twenty years ago, were a few games behind the Warriors in total games played.
With that aside, here is the breakdown of the Warriors' work ahead of them this week:
|Date||Opponent||Opp. SRS||Opp. Rest (Days)||GSW Rest (Days)||2016 Series Record (Differential)|
|March 6||Los Angeles Lakers (A)||-9.01||1||2||3 - 0 (GSW +73)|
|March 7||Orlando Magic (H)||-1.70||2||0||1 - 0 (GSW +16)|
|March 9||Utah Jazz (H)||0.71||0||1||2 - 0 (GSW +21)|
|March 11||Portland Trailblazers (H)||0.90||2||1||1 - 1 (GSW -12)|
|March 12||Phoenix Suns (H)||-6.18||1||0||3 - 0 (GSW +52)|
Some trends of the week: two terrible teams in the Suns and the Lakers bookend a slate of middling teams this week. The Warriors will play a team with less rest than they have only twice in the Lakers and Jazz, which is counterbalanced by the home field advantage. This week also sees the bulk of a major six-game home stand for the Warriors -- the longest string of home games remaining on the calendar. Running the table through this string will position the Warriors nicely in a push past the mythic 69-win threshold that only one team (the Bulls) has ever successfully crossed.
Attrition will likely be the stoutest opponent through this portion of the schedule. The truncated rest periods are exacerbated by an ailing Andre Iguodala (hamstring), who is dubiously listed as questionable for @LAL despite the two days rest, and a mending Festus Ezeli, still out (knee) with no return in sight.
The toughest tangible opponent the Warriors will face this week will likely, ironically, be the road-weary Utah Jazz. Fresh off of a 1 - 3 road trip featuring a lone victory against the beleaguered New Orleans Pelicans, the Jazz will have a quick pit stop in Utah against a suddenly defensively resurgent Atlanta Hawks unit before taking a red-eye flight to Oakland. Despite these ulterior factors in the Warriors' favor, the Jazz are a physical team that excels in dragging other teams into the mucky mires, instead of requiring themselves to elevate their own level of play. Such a strategy travels well, and fares well in fatigued situations. The Jazz already played the Warriors close earlier in the year, losing by just three points in Salt Lake City.
Forward Draymond Green has recently shown signs of wear and tear, both defensively and offensively. While a rested, spry Green can decimate anything that lumbering big man Derrick Favors has to offer in a vacuum, Favors and the rest of the Jazz's goliath frontline will prove a hulking task for the smaller Green. The Oklahoma City Thunder recently outrebounded the Warrior frontline by 30, keeping an otherwise helpless Thunder offense afloat by giving themselves second and third opportunities in one trip. The Jazz's frontline of Favors, Rudy Gobert, Trey Lyles, and Gordon Hayward may be even bigger and more bruising than the Thunder's huge front court. This alone makes a date with the Jazz, in these weary early-March matchups, a dangerous proposition.
The second toughest outing of the week will most likely come from Damian Lillard's Trailblazers, who have seemingly discovered nuclear fusion since the All Star Break. The last two games in Toronto and Boston notwithstanding, the young, athletic squad has been outstanding, led by their bombastic point guard Lillard, who has been especially motivated since being slighted when he was left off of the All Star roster. Lillard has joined Stephen Curry as the only two players with multiple 50+ point games this year -- both of his games coming in the two weeks since the All Star break.
The Trailblazers as a whole, with wily scoring threats at the guard positions and athletic big men capable of cutting off of Andrew Bogut defensive rotations, fit the very specific profile for teams that match up well with the Warriors this year. And, in fact, the Trailblazers handed the Warriors one of two incredibly humbling losses they have so far suffered since being crowned NBA champions. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the rest of the young Blazers attack are more than capable, as evidenced in late February, of bringing the fight to the Warriors.
Miscellaneous notables: The Warriors can surpass the 1996 Bulls' less celebrated record mark for consecutive home victories (44) with a win against the young Magic team on March 7 ... ABC is broadcasting the Warriors - Lakers tilt on Sunday, the only nationally broadcast Warrior game this week ... The Laker matchup is also the last time Warrior fans get to relive the Kobe Bryant farewell extravaganza; count how many times the phrase "passing of the torch" is used with regards to Bryant and Stephen Curry.
1996 Chicago Bulls (52 - 6): March 3, 1996 to March 9, 1996
In the second week of March, twenty years ago, the Bulls were sitting at a colossal 52 wins with only six losses to complement them. Legendary swingman Michael Jordan was two days removed from being personally out-dueled by Warriors wing Latrell Sprewell in Chicago (although Jordan's team got the last laugh, winning easily). The Bulls' week was far less busy than the contemporary Warriors' workload:
|Date||Opponent||Opp. SRS||Opp. Rest (Days)||CHI Rest (Days)||1996 Series Record (Differential)|
|March 5||Milwaukee Bucks (H)||-4.92||0||2||4 - 0 (CHI +56)|
|March 7||Detroit Pistons (H)||2.45||1||1||4 - 0 (CHI +70)|
A fairly quotidian week, easily dispatching a terrible Bucks team, and a good but ultimately toothless Pistons team that would end up being outscored by 70 points in the season series against the Bulls. The Bulls would end up 54 - 6 at the end of the week, to catch up in total games played with where the Warriors are currently.
Things will immediately become more interesting as, unbeknownst to the Chicago Bulls in the week of March 3, their largest loss of the season (in Madison Square Garden to Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks) is looming within the next week. In order to stay blow-for-blow on pace with the Bulls, the Warriors will want to avoid such upset losses, as the Bulls will fail to do next week.
Miscellaneous notables: Warriors head coach and Chicago Bulls point guard Steve Kerr hit two of three threes against the Pistons on March 7, but missed one of two free throws and went 0-4 from the field on 2PA ... In 40 minutes, the Pistons posted a 78 offensive rating when legend Grant Hill was on the court ... Curry did face off against the hallowed 1996 Bulls this week, although it was Michael, not Stephen ... a litmus test for how the league has changed: against the Bulls, in a non-overtime game, two Bucks played more than 44 minutes.
Team schedules, both contemporary and historical, and SRS data accessed from basketball-reference.com