The Warriors are great. The '96 Bulls were great. Let's just leave it at that
The have won their way into the basketball record books this season, yet many fans are talking just as much about a team from 20 years ago: Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Were those 72-win Bulls better than Steph Curry’s Warriors of today? Could Golden State do what the old Seattle SuperSonics couldn’t and knock off Chicago? Or would the Bulls sweep these Warriors, as Scottie Pippen recently claimed?
There are discussions about who on the Bulls could defend Curry and, likewise, if any Warriors could hope to slow Jordan. Would the Bulls struggle more with Golden State spreading the court or the Warriors with Chicago’s more physical style and Dennis Rodman crashing the boards? Which era’s conditions and style would the game be played under and with what refs?
And if we’re debating whether the 1996 Bulls or 2016 Warriors would win, why aren’t we considering if either of them would beat the 1965 Boston Celtics team that went 62-18? While 62 wins isn’t 72 or 73, the Celtics put up their record in a nine-team NBA, not the diluted league the Bulls and Warriors feasted on. Golden State gets to play the likes of the Sixers, Lakers and Suns while the worst team in the of 1965, the San Francisco Warriors, started none other than Wilt Chamberlain. Would Rodman have any hope pulling rebounds away from the last-place Wilt, let alone Bill Russell? Surely Draymond Green would not.
On and on we can go, debating and arguing and not coming to any conclusions. Because we can’t come to a conclusion barring the invention of a time machine. Bill Russell is 82, Michael Jordan is 53 and Steph Curry is 28. We can get them all on a court for a greatest-team-ever tournament, but Curry’s fresh legs are going to have a pretty big advantage.
All that we know is that this Warriors team is among the best to ever play pro basketball. Same as the ‘96 Bulls. Same as the ‘65 Celtics. Young NBA fans are lucky to be able to see this Golden State group play. Most of us can remember Jordan’s Bulls, too. And some oldsters out there have been fortunate enough to see all three teams in their prime. Instead of wasting time arguing something that can’t be decided, I’d much rather enjoy what these Warriors are doing while we can before the team fades with age, injury and free agency.
The Warriors are a great team. The 1996 Bulls were also a great team. Both things can be, and are, true. Let’s just try to leave it at that and enjoy some basketball.
Quote of the week
“No one. It’s what I do.”
– Kobe Bryant, when asked if anyone has ever beaten him one-on-one.
Now that all the gift ceremonies and celebrations are all but over, there’s one more thing the NBA should do to honor Kobe Bryant: add a one-on-one tournament to the all-star game festivities. Let the game’s best compete without teammates dragging them down, as Kobe always wanted to do. Call it the Kobe Cup.
Video of the week
Watch 6ft 11in man-child Karl Anthony Towns defend the 6ft 3in Steph Curry. Not just defend him, shut him down. It’s the age of the “small ball” Warriors right now, but with players like Towns and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo beginning to emerge in the league, freakishly athletic giants who can also do small ball things, the balance of basketball power will eventually swing back to those who tower.
How did LeBron carry the Cavaliers this week?
The Cavaliers could clinch the No 1 seed in the East with a win over the Hawks on Monday night, so LeBron scored 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting to go along with six boards, six assists, two steals and a block as Cleveland knocked off Atlanta easily. Over his past 10 games, he’s averaged 28/8/8 and is shooting 63% from the floor, including 51% from three. LeBron played career-low minutes this year to save his 31-year-old body for this time of year and it looks like the strategy is paying off. The rest of the East should be very scared. The conference’s owner is ready to show he’s still in charge.
1. Golden State Warriors (1)
Golden State’s attempt at a record 73rd win is being slightly upstaged by a 16-65 team closing out their season the same night. Perhaps that’s the best evidence of Kobe Bryant’s standing in the game.
2. San Antonio Spurs (2)
Everyone expected Gregg Popovich to laugh in the face of Golden State’s run at history by playing all backups when the Spurs met the Warriors twice last week. But he actually put his best players on the court. It was a great reminder why Popovich is an all-time great troll: he always keeps us guessing.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3)
The regular season of LeBron and the Cavaliers was plenty dramatic, but the pressure of the postseason will make all of that look smooth and easy. Don’t be surprised if ESPN hires a full-time LeBron Instagram and Twitter analyst.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (5)
With Kobe Bryant retiring, the most famous player who calls the Staples Center home is Chris Paul, just as the Lakers planned back in 2011 before David Stern ruined everything.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
Russell Westbrook notched his 18th triple-double of the season on Monday night, but this time he did it the game’s first 18 minutes – the first NBA player to get a triple-double in the first half since Kevin Johnson in 1997. Let’s hope this is the last-ever comparison between Westbrook and Kevin Johnson.
6. Toronto Raptors (6)
Locked in as the No 2 seed in the East, Toronto’s regular season closes with games against the Sixers and Nets. It would probably be more beneficial for the Raptors to prepare for the playoffs with an intrasquad scrimmage.
7. Miami Heat (8)
The Heat have won nine of 12 and could be a very real threat to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoffs if they are able to get Chris Bosh back on the court. Until then, we will have be sustained by .
8. Atlanta Hawks (7)
While some feel bad for the Thunder and LeBron for trying to win in the age of the Warriors and Spurs, remember to save some pity for Atlanta. The Hawks have 108 wins over the past two years, the most the franchise has ever had in two seasons, yet have nothing to show for it. Not all glory days are created equal.
9. Charlotte Hornets (9)
Hornets forward Marvin Williams is one of 12 finalists for the team-mate of the year award. And, yes, you are correct: D’Angelo Russell is not one of the other finalists.
10. Boston Celtics (10)
A week ago the Celtics beat Steph Curry and the Warriors at Oracle Arena, then Monday night they lost because they couldn’t contain Jeremy Lin. Nothing about the preceding sentence would have seemed surprising back in the spring of 2012.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers have clinched a playoff spot higher than the No 7 seed, a legitimate accomplishment which is probably deserving of a banner at the Moda Center: “2016 – MANAGED TO AVOID THE WARRIORS AND SPURS IN THE 1ST ROUND.”
12. Detroit Pistons (14)
Here’s Pistons forward Marcus Morris on Detroit’s goals for the playoffs: “We’re not trying to go into the playoffs getting swept or anything like that. So even if we don’t win the first round, we’ve still got to go out there and compete, just try to win as many games as possible, if not win it all.” That’s the depressing reality of the NBA playoffs and one that doesn’t exist in the NFL, NHL and MLB: barring a series of catastrophic injuries or an outbreak of a uncontainable virus, just a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at winning a championship. The lower-seeded teams openly hope to not get swept. Order your 1st round tickets today!
13. Indiana Pacers (13)
Ty Lawson missed time last week because his roommate had strep throat and the Pacers wanted to keep him away from the locker room so he didn’t infect the whole team. “If it was Game 7 NBA finals, I would’ve played,” Lawson told reporters. We’ll have to take his word for it, because the Pacers will be happy to last until a Game 7 of the first round.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (12)
The Grizzlies have struggled with injuries all season and now it appears that Matt Barnes has a serious brain injury. What else would cause him to post something on Instagram implying his Warriors were near-equals of the current Warriors?
15. Dallas Mavericks (15)
Left for dead two weeks ago, the Mavericks ran off seven of eight to clinch one of the final playoff sports in the West. So now they have to play the Warriors or Spurs. OK, they’re still kind of dead.
16. Utah Jazz (16)
The Jazz will need a win on Wednesday night in Kobe Bryant’s final game to make the playoffs. Here’s a helpful scouting report that should give Utah the edge and get them in the postseason: Kobe is going to shoot all of the shots because no way will Kobe go out passing.
17. Houston Rockets (17)
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander will reportedly evaluate GM Daryl Morey’s performance after the season, meaning Morey and fellow analytics disciple Sam Hinkie could both be jobless just a few weeks apart. If they’re not hired by other teams, look for them to be co-commissioners next season of the most confusing and complicated fantasy basketball league ever.
18. Chicago Bulls
The 1995-96 Bulls no longer stand alone as the team with the most wins in an NBA season, but these 2015-16 Bulls helped make history of their own. Had Derrick Rose and friends not suffered two (double-digit) losses to the Warriors this season, Golden State never would have set the record. Congratulations to the Bulls!
19. Washington Wizards
The Wizards were hoping to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference this season and then lure local hero Kevin Durant in free agency as their missing championship piece. Things didn’t quite go as planned. Now the pitch is: want to come home and play for a bad team that will have a late lottery pick? That’s not a very good pitch. Maybe this is better: Want to come play in a conference that doesn’t have Steph Curry and Gregg Popovich?
20. Orlando Magic
Evan Fournier has averaged 20.6 points per game over his last five games – an encouraging way for a 23-year-old player to close the season. But he’ll need to win a few scoring titles and NBA championships before “Fournier” is safe to Google.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (22)
22. Denver Nuggets (21)
23. Sacramento Kings (23)
24. New York Knicks (24)
25. New Orleans Pelicans (25)
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (26)
27. Phoenix Suns (28)
28. Brooklyn Nets (27)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (29)
30. Philadelphia 76ers (30)
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