After losing two of their last three games, the Golden State Warriors showed that they are still the NBA’s best team with a 34-point victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The defending champs have certainly slowed down since their record-setting 24-0 start, but they still have a chance to break the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season.
Golden State improved their record to 38-4 by blowing out Cleveland on Monday night, 132-98. It was a potential 2016 NBA finals preview, as the Warriors look to win their second straight title. Including Monday’s win, Golden State finds themselves in the middle of a difficult four-game stretch that could go a long way in determining where they finish at the end of the regular season.
After their visit to Cleveland, the Warriors are set to play on the road against the Chicago Bulls, followed by home games against the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. Chicago is the No.3 seed in the East and possibly the biggest threat to Cleveland, while Indiana has a top-three defense and is a likely playoff team. The Spurs are the biggest threat to the Warriors with a 36-6 record, and it will be their first meeting this season.
In some respects, San Antonio has been even more impressive than Golden State this year. The Spurs are one of the best defensive teams the NBA has seen in recent memory, allowing just 93.3 points per 100 possessions. Their league-best point differential of 14.2 points per game is considerably better than the Warriors’ average differential of 11.7 points.
If there was any question over how motivated the Warriors would be to break the Bulls’ 72-10 mark, it has been answered by how close the Spurs trail the defending champions. Golden State, with their .905 winning percentage, will likely keep their foot on the gas pedal the entire season as they look to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs have been unbeatable in San Antonio with a 24-0 record, and it will be important for the Warriors to get home-court advantage for a second straight season.
San Antonio has won 11 games in a row and 18 of their last 19, leading some to believe that they are the favorites to win the title. But with their recent drubbing of the Cavs, it’s clear that the Warriors aren’t ready to relinquish their spot atop the West just yet.
While Golden State has lost two of their last three games and four of their last 18, the Warriors were only at full strength for half of those defeats. A calf injury forced Stephen Curry to miss the team’s loss in Dallas on Dec. 30, and Draymond Green didn’t play a week ago when the Warriors lost by two points in Denver. If Curry and Green can stay on the court for the rest of the season, Golden State should be extremely difficult to beat.
Curry is the favorite to win a second straight MVP award, averaging 30 points per game on 51 percent field-goal shooting and 45.1 percent shooting from three-point range. But Green's all-around game has been nearly as important to Golden State’s success, and he’s sure to garner some MVP votes. He leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles, averaging 14.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists per contest.
Golden State’s minor struggles might not be anything more than a blip on the radar. The ’96 Bulls went through a similar stretch in the middle of their record-setting season, losing back-to-back games to the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns, neither of whom finished above .500 that season. Chicago finished with a .878 winning percentage by ending the season with a 12-game edge in the East. The Bulls would go on to defeat the 64-win Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA finals.
Wednesday, Jan. 20: at Chicago Bulls
Friday, Jan. 22: vs. Indiana Pacers
Monday, Jan. 25: vs. San Antonio Spurs
Wednesday, Jan. 27: vs. Dallas Mavericks
Saturday, Jan. 30: at Philadelphia 76ers
Sunday, Jan. 31: at New York Knicks