Golden State is so good they toyed with the second-best team in the world, like a cat flicking a wounded mouse around the room. That other team — the San Antonio Spurs — entered the game at 65-12.
Think about that… 65-12. They were 53 games over .500.
In any other league, any other sport, any other epoch, the Spurs would be viewed through a historical prism. (Did I mention they were 65-12?) But in Oakland they were little more than roadkill for the Steamship Stephen Curry.
And this wasn’t the generic, soporific Spurs lineup, the conga line of reserves they trot out the second half of the season. This wasn’t the red shirts in Star Trek, who are sure to morph into salt cubes by the first commercial break.
So we start with context, the premature juxtapositions. We sure do love lists and comparisons. Who’s the greatest boxer, point guard, quarterback? ’85 Bears or ’00 Ravens?
Likewise, the Warriors are being compared to the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls, the 72-10 iteration of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson. Pippen recently asserted that his Bulls would whip the Warriors in four games. He clearly sees red — literally — when any team floats into his Bulls’ rare orbit. And, up to this point, no team has. For 20 years, those Bulls have been widely considered the best of this generation, if not any.
Steph Curry is a corporeal cheat code, on and off the court. If you love mundane stats like “player efficiency rating,” then you know that he’s having the best season in NBA history, supplanting Wilt Chamberlain.
We all know Michael Jordan is, well, Michael Jordan — the NBA player nonpareil. As great as Curry is, he doesn’t have Jordan’s hardwood tool belt. Jerry West once said that Jordan was the best offensive and defensive player in the league, a designation that won’t likely befall Curry anytime soon.
But perhaps what separates the two clubs isn’t Jordan’s eminence, but the Robin to his Batman. Pippen was markedly better than Klay Thompson, Curry’s wingman. Then you have Rodman rebounding and defending the post. Finally you have Kerr vs Kerr’s mentor, Phil Jackson, who may be running the Knicks into the grave now, but was an artist when he lived below the luxury suites.
Before all the white noise of projections, the Warriors (70-9) still have much work ahead of them. First they must win their final three games — including two against Memphis. Then they must also win, on the road, against the Spurs, who are a spiffy 39-0 and threatening to become the first team in league history to finish a season undefeated at home. (The 1986 Celtics came the closest, going 40-1 on the hallowed parquet of Boston Garden.)
Then the Warriors would probably have to beat those Spurs again in the playoffs. To assume any team will breeze by a team that’s 67-15 — San Antonio’s likely regular-season record — is silly.
Then the Warriors will likely play another early-summer stalker. While the Spurs and Warriors joust for Western Conference supremacy, the lone team east of the Mississippi worth watching — the Cleveland Cavaliers — should stroll through the Eastern Conference and be fully healthy, rested and ravenous by June.
For all the ceremony surrounding Curry, a legitimate argument can be made that he’s still not today’s best player.
The “other” preeminent player in the NBA is still hanging around, equally dominant, and desperate to get his home town its first world title in any sport since 1964.
That’s LeBron James, of course. While the NBA is surreally top-heavy, with much of the weight coming from the west, King James is gearing up for a title run. The Warriors could be creating a dynasty. But it’s hard to get more dynastic than five straight trips to the championship round, which is what LeBron has done each of the last five seasons. That’s no small feat in the modern mayhem of pro basketball.
Not even His Airness made six straight trips to the Finals. (Granted, he may have made eight straight if not for his hiatus to chase four-seam fastballs. But he didn’t.)
You’ll recall LeBron and his merry band of Cavaliers made Golden State sweat for several games last year before finally succumbing to the Warriors’ skill, will and depth. Despite all the mojo in Golden State’s favor, they were pushed to the limit by an emaciated Cleveland team essentially made up of LeBron and the aforementioned red shirts from the USS Enterprise. LeBron singlehandedly kept Cleveland in the series, sans Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Both Love and Irving are healthy and hearty. And they have much to prove this spring, primarily that they are more than ornaments on King James’s Christmas tree.
If you watched the Warriors last night, it was impossible not to get caught up in the seamless, Matrix-like style with which they win. The ball is always in motion, each player in uncanny symmetry with the next, like cells in a happy, hardwood organism.
But we all understand the zero-sum calculus of pro sports: championship or bust. Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots, who were the greatest team in NFL history. Until they weren’t. And it is perilous to presume that a David Tyree isn’t lurking in the labyrinth of the NBA playoffs.
If they win their last three games, the Warriors will lay legitimate claim to being the best regular-season team in NBA history. But to surpass those Bulls, they have a few more obstacles to overcome. One of them would be a King in Cleveland.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.