The Golden State Warriors are stumbling, fumbling, and bumbling towards the finish line. They are faltering short of the virtual perfection set by the Chicago Bulls, which is perfectly acceptable -- the only team to reach those lofty heights has been the original. That all-time mark set by their predecessor is still within sight, though a precarious two games lays between them and that goal.
Arrogance killed these cats. Luckily they have nine lives (and losses). Lessons taught by the Boston Celtics were quickly retaught by the Minnesota Timberwolves, of -4.00 SRS fame, as the Warriors went just 2-2 on their last four game homestand. Coach Steve Kerr has drawn commiseration from Sisyphus for his efforts in trying to get lessons to stick in with the Warriors. They take opponents lightly to an undeserved degree -- a gargantuan task, given they are a team now 62 games over .500.
The truth is that the Warriors' mental focus has largely been in absentia for large swaths of the season -- but talent and spontaneous late-game execution, with a healthy dash of transcendence from Stephen Curry, has covered the mental blemishes. These are things that Pythagorus has been insisting upon, as the Warriors' win-loss expectancy has largely lagged significantly behind their actual win-loss record -- and the Warriors' record is beginning to regress towards that mean. For weeks, now, they've played with little fire or purpose. Nonchalant ball-control has reared its ugly head, a symptom of mental looseness in a time when serious playoff teams are tightening and re-sharpening their mentality. Looseness and a permeating apathy towards the game caused the Warriors to slither by the Memphis Grizzlies' D-League All-Star team by the slimmest of margins possible on Sunday night.
None of this is to say that the Warriors lack fortitude, nor are they anything less than prohibitive favorites to win the championship this season. Their mettle was tested in the most damning crucible possible in last year's playoffs. This is not an issue of the heart. This is an issue of the mind, and getting into the correct mindset as the regular season dies and the postseason grows more eminent. It's a matter of resharpening the blade.
The magic number of losses is zero. This is it. Win out and set history. Anything less is merely retreading the path set by the Chicago Bulls two decades ago.
Golden State Warriors 71 - 9: April 10, 2016 to April 16, 2016
The final week features an exact repeat of the latter half of last week. The Warriors face the San Antonio Spurs in Spurs - Warriors IV, with the perhaps superfluous Tim Duncan likely resting.
|Date||Opponent||Opp. SRS||Opp. Rest (Days)||GSW Rest (Days)||2016 Season Series (Differential)|
|April 10||San Antonio Spurs (A)||10.40||1||0||2 - 1 (GSW +33)|
|April 13||Memphis Grizzlies (H)||-1.94||0||2||3 - 0 (GSW +67)|
Story-lines abound in the final week of play. History will be made, one way or another, in Spurs - Warriors IV. Should the Spurs win, they will clinch the best home record of all-time, with the possibility of a perfect home record. If the Warriors win, they will set a new road record, breaking the two-way tie they are currently locked into with the Chicago Bulls. Furthermore, if the Warriors win in San Antonio they will become the first team to never lose multiple games to a single team in a season. San Antonio would have to win to avoid losing a season series against an opponent (and their matchup with Oklahoma City provides another opportunity for them to lose twice to the same opponent this season).
The Spurs are also currently on a season-worst two-game losing streak after falling in Denver. Should the Warriors win one (or both) games on the docket, they will ensure they will have never had any multi-game losing streak to speak of, a testament to fortitude and conviction.
There is also a bit of an oddity in the scheduling. For the first time in 35 days, the Warriors have more than one day's rest between games. The last time that happened? Their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. This respite comes at an opportune time, as the Warriors have a built-in rest a few days before the layover between regular and postseason play.
Spurs - Warriors IV will steal headlines and is undoubtedly a matchup fraught with narratives to spin and impressive statistics to flash across the screen. But be wary of the Grizzlies. Former Warrior Matt Barnes, who has made a career out of being criminally underrated, and the desiccated remains of Vince Carter proved more than a handful for the Warriors on Saturday.
But no one said setting untouchable records would be easy.
Chicago Bulls (68 - 9): April 14, 1996 to April 21, 1996
The final week (plus an extra sunday) featured the second home loss in the final four games for the Chicago Bulls, as well as the first (and only) time another team defeated the Bulls multiple times that season.
|Date||Opponent||Opp. SRS||Opp. Rest (Days)||CHI Rest (Days)||1996 Series Record (Differential)|
|April 14||Cleveland Cavaliers (A)||2.49||2||1||4 - 0 (CHI +89)|
|April 16||Milwaukee Bucks (A)||-4.92||1||1||4 - 0 (CHI +56)|
|April 18||Detroit Pistons (H)||2.45||0||1||4 - 0 (CHI +70)|
|April 20||Indiana Pacers (H)*||3.10||2||1||2 - 2 (CHI +28)|
|April 21||Washington Bullets (A)||0.99||1||0||4 - 0 (CHI +47)|
*Indicated Bulls lost game
Despite Adam Silver's valiant efforts, the Warriors' schedule seems to be just as brutal as the Bulls' closing stretch in terms of rest situation. All else being equal, the Warriors' path towards 72 and beyond is obstructed by a far more stout opponent (using SRS solely as a quick gauge of talent and the abstract concept of "obstructiveness") than the Bulls faced.
And that is not to diminish the Bulls or their accomplishments in any way. If anything, this season in Eden has displayed just how grueling the reality of 73 wins is. 73 is a massive undertaking. It requires vicissitude in wins and perseverance in losses. It requires synchronous talent, leadership, and passion.
And, in the Warriors' case, it requires defeating the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies one more time each. Play it again, Steph.