Those crafty Warriors. Even in a season that doesn’t knock your socks off, they might find a way to do something historic.
The 2017-18 NBA campaign has become notable primarily because of the ascendance of the Houston Rockets. They have been sensational – better than just about anybody expected – since adding point guard Chris Paul and a couple of key worker bees on the defensive end. The Rockets have won 17 consecutive games and counting, refusing to relinquish the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference to the relentless Warriors (who have won six straight since returning from the All-Star break).
It’s shaping up to be a fantastic finish in the West. And it could result in another superlative for the Warriors, who checked off a couple of major boxes when they finished 73-9 and started the season 24-0 in 2015-16.
This year, they could become the best of the second-best. That is, they could finish with the top record ever among teams that failed to complete a regular season as the NBA’s best.
Does that makes sense?
To illustrate, let’s look at the current bearers of that standard. And we don’t have to go too far back in time to find them.
Two years ago, when Golden State went 73-9 to break the mark established by the 1995-96 Bulls (before being upset by Cleveland in the NBA Finals), the San Antonio Spurs quietly put together a stellar season of their own. The Spurs finished 67-15 that year, a full 10 games ahead of No. 3 Cleveland. I used basketball-reference.com to look back through NBA (and even BAA) history, and no No. 2 team ever boasted a winning percentage to match San Antonio’s .817 in 2015-16.
The Warriors enter tonight’s game against a diminished (but still solid) Spurs team with a record of 50-14 (.781). The Rockets, who have a tough game at Toronto tomorrow night, are one game ahead of them at 51-13 (.797). If Golden State and Houston both win out over their final 18 games, the Warriors will own another (albeit less glorious) record. They also could end up tied with the 2017-18 Rockets or the 2015-16 Spurs for the title of greatest regular-season also-ran in NBA history.
Can the Rockets and Warriors really go undefeated over the final month of the season, though? It seems highly unlikely. Then again, these two newly minted rivals look like they’ll be pushing one another from afar as we head down the stretch. So anything is possible – even 69-13 and 68-14.