It is in many ways fitting that one of the worst teams in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors, are now one of its best, if only because history means so little in a short-attention span culture like ours.
The Warriors are now considered heirs-presumptive to the Western Conference title and their first visit to the NBA Finals in four full decades. They long ago became Internet and metric idols, and have had the additional taste to win nearly every game at home. Having face-crushed off the intriguing yet maddening Washington Wizards Monday night, they need only beat Phoenix, Portland, Minnesota, Memphis and Denver – sometimes difficult but by all means doable – to become the fifth team in league history to win at least 39 home games.
It’s nice, after all, when you give your home fans the feeling you never lose, and that when you do win you win by 15 points a game. No angst, to worry, not needless second-guessing, unless you bet them giving 16. It all helps add that extra bit of teak flooring to a bandwagon.
They are still in position to have the eighth largest winning margin in league history, as well as be one of the few teams to finish first in both offensive and defensive efficiency (they are currently 3rd offensively, 1st defensively). They have won 40 – 40! – games by double digits. They are healthy while most of their foes are not, they are mostly free of internal agendas, and in all ways both measurable or not, their path to glory is clear, paved, striped and signed.
And that is the weirdest part of all, because this was supposed to be a titanic struggle for everyone in the Western Conference this year, where 50 wins would get you only a participation badge and a seat at the lottery. Every contender was loaded, and everyone was a contender. The eastern Conference was going to serve the relegation tier of the league.
Oh, and Cleveland. Cleveland would be the exception because it was all LeBronned and stuff.
Instead, the Warriors, with one title since the Korean War, with more than three consecutive winning seasons only once in their history, with a playoff attainment percentage of less than 45 percent, are destroying all meaningful playoff scenarios save the one that has them in June. To discuss the NBA is to be drawn inexorably to them, and then to linger there.
The Warriors. The Philadelphia San Francisco Golden State And San Francisco Warriors. It is skull-cracking stuff.
Now we could cover the grim decades, but that’s why God made BasketballReference.com. The longest run of successful years, frankly, were between 1972 and ’78, when they had seven consecutive winning seasons, won their last NBA title and reached a conference final the next year.
The second-longest run? This one. Three seasons. And the third one has been spent obliterating the league. They have not lost to the same team twice, and have won the rematch (where there has been one) all six times.
And though we’ve referenced it before, this bears repeating: They are among the healthiest teams in the league in terms of games missed and impact minutes lost. In other words, they are very good, and they are very present.
This is fairly disorienting, at least in terms of talking points and the building of drama. The Western Conference playoffs no longer look like the Somme-level bloodbath they were expected to be because there is now a clear hierarchy of teams, with Golden State at its apex.
Is this done in March? Don’t be a fool. But if it isn’t done, the Warriors will have managed to jack up their bar to absurd heights and been a disappointment. Only three teams to win 65 games have ever failed to win a title, and one of those, the 2007 Dallas Mavericks, got We Believed. That team lasted another year before the former owner got snippy about success.
As for these Warriors, the area believes, the nation believes, and they both expect a lot to match their beliefs. You may decide where you turn your particular disappointment dial, but we know that with every passing win, it gets another twist. With a game Friday in Memphis, the next great twist is upon them. The Grizz is the only team the Warriors have not beaten this year, and the Grizz have also won 12 of the last 14 games in which the teams have played.
The Grizz are, in some ways, the last hurdle to turning this Warrior season fully delusional. They play a different style, a low-to-high offensive team that defends with unsettling ferocity (they’ve allowed 21 100-point games to opponents in 71 games if you take out the one double-overtime win over Charlotte, a 72 percent smother mark). They are what experts call a real bitch to play.
If the Warriors handle their business there, and then 17 days later in Oakland, well, there you go. The kids’ table will have been run, and the big table where all the chips go will be set.
And for those who remember the history of this benighted franchise and the way this season was actually supposed to play out, that is more extraordinary than anyone seems to realize.