Are Warriors the greatest ever?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2015 - 9:00am

Golden State has surged out of the starting gates with a jackrabbit 16-0 record, the longest win streak ever in NBA history to open a season. There are 66 more games to play before the Warriors end their season and somewhere along the way, they’ll be bushwhacked. It’s unthinkable for a team to sweep an 82-game schedule. The closest an NBA team came to doing it was in 1995-96 when the Chicago Bulls posted a 72-10 record, triggered by a 41-3 start.

At the moment, the Warriors are riding high. They were scheduled to play the Phoenix Suns on the road yesterday morning (Manila time) and a win would’ve raised their record to 17-0. Golden State star Steph Curry said recently setting a new record for most consecutive wins is not impossible. Discounting a possible win over Phoenix, the Warriors are 17 away from matching the record of 33 straight established by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

Even Lakers icon Kobe Bryant said winning 33 in a row is doable. “Yeah, they could do it,” said Bryant. “Because they’re good enough. It’s a very young league, and so they’ve managed to put together a team of extremely intelligent players and extremely versatile players and great shooters. And so I see no reason why they couldn’t continue to extend it.”

Curry said 33 is a special number. “There are obviously still milestones that we can continue to go after but you go after them by how you approach each day,” he said. Golden State interim coach Luke Walton said he’s concerned that the Warriors might lose their hunger after establishing the new start record. The key is to challenge the Warriors to achieve more than what they’ve accomplished. Once they get complacent and sit on their laurels, the Warriors will lose their competitive edge. That’s when they’ll be wide open for an ambush.

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Will this season’s Warriors go down in history as the NBA’s greatest team ever? The jury’s still out on that particularly as the season is far from over and anything can still happen on the way to the playoffs. For Golden State to be in contention for the honor, the Warriors must overshadow not only the 1995-96 Bulls but also the 1971-72 Lakers, the 1996-97 Bulls, the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers and the 1985-86 Boston Celtics – the five championship teams usually referred to as the greatest in NBA annals. If Curry and his gangmates eclipse the Bulls 72-win record and capture their second straight title this season, the throne will be undoubtedly theirs. The Warriors are on track to make history and it could happen this season.

Let’s recall the exploits of those five historic teams. The 1995-96 Bulls were of course led by Michael Jordan. His teammates included Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, former Alaska import Dickey Simpkins, Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley and the Warriors current coach Steve Kerr. In the playoffs, the Bulls blanked Miami, 3-0, thrashed New York, 4-1, whipped Shaquille O’Neal and Orlando, 4-0 and disposed of Seattle, 4-2, after a 3-0 start in the Finals. Chicago had a 39-2 record at home. Coach Phil Jackson was at the helm of the squad that boasted of the league’s MVP and scoring leader Jordan, the top rebounder Rodman and the Sixth Man of the Year Kukoc.

The 1971-72 Lakers registered a 69-13 record, punctuated by a 33-game win streak. Coach Bill Sharman’s lineup listed Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston, Pat Riley and Jim McMillan. In the playoffs, L. A. wiped out Chicago, 4-0, Milwaukee, 4-2 and New York, 4-1, in the Finals. The Lakers scored over 100 points in 81 games and won 38 at home. The 33-game win streak was broken by Milwaukee. “We knew it had to end sometime,” said Sharman. “It was one of our weakest games in quite a while but I think we learned something from it. It’s hard to learn when you win.”

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The 1996-97 Bulls brought back Jordan, Kerr, Pippen, Rodman, Simpkins, Harper and Kukoc. Chicago won its second straight title by ousting Washington, 3-0, Atlanta, 4-1, Miami, 4-1 and Utah, 4-2, in the playoffs. The Bulls gored their way to a 69-13 record, 34-2 at home.

The 1966-67 Sixers had a 68-13 record, 28-2 at home. That was when the NBA increased the regular season schedule from 80 to 81. It would later inch up to 82. The team was bannered by Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker, Wali Jones, Hal Greer and future NBA coaches Bob Weiss, Matt Guokas and Larry Costello. Philadelphia averaged 125.2 points and 70.4 rebounds to dominate the league under coach Alex Hannum. In the playoffs, the Sixers beat the Cincinnati Royals, 3-1, Boston, 4-1 and Rick Barry and the San Francisco Warriors, 4-2, in the Finals. “That whole season was just magical, something where a team played almost perfect basketball,” said Jones whose son Askia would later play in the PBA. “We played as a team/family concept.”

Finally, there was coach K. C. Jones’ 1985-86 Celtics who posted a 67-15 record. They trounced Chicago, 3-0, Atlanta, 4-1 and Milwaukee, 4-0 before dismissing Houston, 4-2, in the Last Dance. Boston’s cast included Larry Bird, former PBA import David Thirdkill, Bill Walton, the late Dennis Johnson, now Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, Robert Parish and former Houston coach Kevin McHale. The Celtics lost only once at home in the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, Jordan dropped 63 points on the Celtics but the Bulls still lost the game in double overtime.

It’ll take some doing for the Warriors to outdo those five dream teams but if there’s a squad that can do it, Golden State surely has a shot. The remarkable thing is the Warriors are roaring with an interim coach who’s filling in for Kerr while he recovers from two back surgeries.

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