As you’ve probably heard, the Golden State Warriors are undefeated through the 20 percent mark of the season. In fact, they’ve set a new NBA record for most wins to begin a season without a blemish at 16-0, and it may well keep going tonight at Phoenix and so on. Regardless of when they finally drop a game, that’s already one milestone they’ve eclipsed. The next one up on the docket is trying to break the all-time record for consecutive wins record of 33 set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, and Stephen Curry admitted the other day that the team is already talking about doing just that (via ESPN):
“It’s important to have tangible goals,” Curry said. “We talk about 33. I think I’ve probably talked about it more than anybody else on the team, just because I know about the history and just really how hard it is.”
Beating that record still remains an unrealistic proposition. They’re still less than halfway there, and obviously all it takes is one bad game for it to be ruined. More attainable, though still unlikely, is chasing down the record for most wins in a season of 72-10 set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Steve Kerr, who has the unique vantage point of being involved with both franchises, had an interesting Q&A with Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com on the topic, but as you might assume didn’t offer much in the way of opinions on which team he thinks is better. Putting that hypothetical aside, the topic of whether the Warriors can win more games is a whole other matter altogether.
One method I’ve used for a while to determine how above or below expectations a season is going for contending teams is to assign them pluses or minuses based on the schedule. Any home game, regardless of opponent, should be an expected win. Contenders are supposed to win home games, barring injuries to star players. If you lose one, you get a minus-1. For road games, it’s the same thing against non-playoff teams. You’re supposed to win those. A loss gets you a minus-1. Road games against playoff teams, however, are supposed to be losses. Beat a playoff team win on the road and you get a plus-1. On average you play about 20 road games a year against playoff teams. That means a contender should go around 62-20 on average just by winning the games they’re supposed to win and losing the ones they’re supposed to lose.
So far using this season the Warriors are plus-4, with road wins at the New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers and not one disappointing (or even expected) loss. To beat Chicago’s record they’ll have to get to plus-11 or better. That’s a better indicator of the true pace they’re on than winning percentage or whatnot, because it weighs the difficulty of the schedule in a league with so many mediocre teams rather than using what they’ve done before to project what they’ll do.
The only question, really, using this method is whether to just use last year’s playoff teams or the expected ones for this season. I’m taking out the Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets because both franchises got much worse in the offseason. I’m inserting the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in their place, because they’ll be playoff teams and tough arenas to win at.
As of now it looks like there are 16 losses left on the schedule, with the first of them coming on Dec. 5 at Toronto. There’s a treacherous seven-game East Coast road trip with games at the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, and the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers aren’t chopped liver either. There’s a New Year’s back-to-back at the Dallas Mavericks and at Houston. A three-game Midwest swing has them visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers and Bulls in mid-January. Then in late February they visit the Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Heat and Thunder in a stretch of four of five road games. Another Texas back-to-back in March, this time at Dallas and then the San Antonio Spurs. And finally, in April, a back-to-back at Memphis and at San Antonio.
Pitfalls all on the way to 73, and again that’s not counting all the home games, all the ones against decent squads, and all possible injury and/or rest scenarios. Michael Jordan played all 82 games and averaged 37.7 minutes-a-pop for the 1995-96 Bulls. Scottie Pippen played 77 games and averaged 36.7 minutes. Kerr and Luke Walton won’t push Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson that hard, and Walton’s already suggested he’ll start resting guys here and there.
Getting to 73 wins will be very, very difficult. So many things can happen. That Bulls team lost their last three games by one point apiece. They dropped games to non-playoff teams like the Denver Nuggets, Charlotte Hornets and expansion Toronto Raptors. They had significantly less travel miles to deal with than the Warriors will.
I still think the Warriors will do it though. Sure, what the heck. Gimme 74-8.