The Golden State Warriors ended the 2015-2016 NBA regular season with the best record of all-time, going 73-9 in an historical year. The defending champs surpassed the previous record of 72 wins held by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, though it might be difficult to decide which team was more dominant.
Here's a breakdown on how both clubs did in their respective seasons.
Success Against The Same Opponent
Golden State got off to the hottest start in the history of American sports, winning their first 24 games of the season. On their way to 73 wins, the Warriors became the first NBA team to never lose two consecutive games or two games to the same team. Chicago suffered their first loss after just five games, and they were beaten twice by the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls lost back-to-back games to the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, neither of which finished that season with a winning record.
Margin Of Victory
Winning by an average of 10.8 points per game, the Warriors just edged out the San Antonio Spurs, who beat opponents by an average of 10.6 points per contest. The race wasn’t nearly as close in 1996, when Chicago outscored opponents by 12.2 points per game.
Ability To Blow Out Opponents And Keep Games Close
The 2016 Warriors won more games than the 1996 Bulls, but Chicago might have been more consistent. They were competitive in most of their losses, and their last three defeats came by just one point each. The Warriors were blown out several times, and they were outscored by 13.7 points in their losses, compared to the Bulls, who were beaten by an average of 6.8 points. The Warriors had the biggest victory of the two teams, winning a game by 50 points. But they had 15 wins by at least 20 points, compared to Chicago's 26 win by 20 points.
Record And Point Margin Against Elite Teams
Against the four teams with the best records, the Warriors were nearly perfect. They defeated the Spurs, Cavaliers, Thunder and Raptor by a combined record of 10 wins and one loss. Golden State won the 10 games by a scoring margin of 11.1 points per game, and the lone loss was the Spurs by eight points. The Bulls had a 7-4 record against the league's four best teams (Seattle SuperSonics, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers). But the Bulls won by a margin of 16.1 points per game, and the four losses were by just 4.5 points.
The biggest difference between the two teams is their defenses. Golden State is an elite defensive team, ranking sixth in the NBA by allowing 103.8 points per 100 possessions. But Chicago was first in the league with a 101.8 defensive rating, thanks in large part to players like Dennis Rodman.
Top Scoring Player Comparison
Both teams ranked first in offense with the Bulls scoring 0.7 points more per 100 possessions, and relied on their go-to guys. They were led by Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry, who had two of the best offensive seasons in NBA history.
The offensive numbers between Jordan (30.4ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.3apg) and Curry (30.1ppg, 5.4rpg, 6.7apg) were very similar, but last year’s MVP probably has an advantage. By making nearly 300 more three-pointers, which he shot at a 45.4 percent clip, Curry might have had the most efficient offensive season the league has ever seen. The Warriors’ point guard made 50.4 percent of his 20.2 field goal attempts per game, while Jordan shot 49.5 percent from the field with 22.6 attempts per contest. Curry will likely become the first ever unanimous MVP winner, and Jordan got 109 out of a possible 113 first-place votes.
Aside from Curry and Jordan, there are plenty of similarities between the supporting casts for both teams. Scottie Pippen was Chicago’s second-most productive player, finishing second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. Draymond Green holds that title for Golden State, and he’s expected to finish in first or second place for the same award. Toni Kukoc was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year for averaging 13.1 points per game off the bench, and Golden State’s Andre Iguodala might be the player most deserving of the award in 2016.
Chicago’s scoring was a little more spread out than Golden State's. Three Bulls averaged double-digits in points, while four Warriors score more than 11 points per game. Dennis Rodman rounded out Chicago’s “Big 3” with 5.5 points and 14.9 rebounds per game, while Klay Thompson has been Golden State’s third-best player with 22.1 points per contest.
Preparation For Playoffs
While the regular season is important, elite teams often use the 82-game schedule to fix some shortcomings and feel out the other postseason clubs.
Golden State still has work to do before they can record the best winning percentage in the regular season and playoffs combined. Chicago lost three postseason games, losing just once before they went up 3-0 in the NBA Finals. The Warriors are no guarantee to win the title, and they’ll likely have to get by the 67-win Spurs, who went 40-1 at home.
The Bulls went on to win three straight titles. When the Warriors begin the playoffs on Saturday, they begin their quest for a second consecutive championship.
Edge: Chicago (for now)
Conclusion: It's very difficult to accurately assess the differences between two clubs that played 20 years apart based on rule changes and style of play. The same was true for the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers that won 69 games and had several teams challenge their record until the Bulls finally broke it.
The Bulls seem to be more dominant than the Warriors, simply because they didn't seem to have a legitimate challenger to worry about. While the Seattle SuperSonics, Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers were considered quality opposition, those clubs probably don't compare to today's San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The two teams are more even than they look. In a seven-game series, it would be hard to bet against either of them. By the slimmest of margins, the Bulls get the nod.