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Pursuit of best-ever season a tricky goal for Warriors

Pluses and minuses of a 73-win season weigh heavily on the minds of Golden State's players and coaches.

POSTED: Jan 20, 2016 11:58 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Golden State has slowed a bit of late, but remains well enough on pace for a record-setting season.

— Should they or shouldn't they?

Should the Golden State Warriors try to chase down the NBA's best regular-season finish of all time, 72-10, established by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls? Or shouldn't they, which is to say, should they instead set aside that potential achievement for one far more important to them -- a repeat as NBA champions in June?

The correct answer obviously, is, "Yes."

See, this really isn't a simple either/or question. If it were really, truly properly framed, there would be multiple choices involved, including "c) both" and "d) neither." And even then, there might not necessarily be any one right answer, considering how loaded up the scenarios are with assumptions, presumptions, conventional wisdom and subjectivity.

When Golden State plays at Chicago Wednesday night (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), the Bulls will have an opportunity to help preserve a prized piece of franchise history. They can only deal the Warriors a single loss at United Center -- the Bulls lost 106-94 in Oakland on Nov. 20 -- but when there's so little margin for error, every setback is a threat to derail any pursuit of 72-10 or (gasp!) 73-9.

A loss beneath all those Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Phil Jackson era banners would bump Golden State to 38-5, two games behind Chicago's 40-3 mark after 43 games. The '95-96 Bulls didn't hit five losses until Feb. 6, dropping their 45th and 46th games of the season while on a six-game Western Conference trip just before the All-Star break.

I didn't realize how truly impressive [Chicago's 72-10 year] was until I got to the NBA and saw how hard and long the season is, and how much more there is to winning games.

– Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton

Even at 38-5, the Warriors' .884 winning percentage would be better than that Chicago squad's .878. But the 35-4 closing needed from there to surpass Jordan, Pippen, Jackson & Co. would require them to play at an .897 clip, picking up the pace a bit from what they've done so far. Those Bulls went 32-7 over their final 39 games.

"It's [the players'] team," Warriors coach Luke Walton said after practice Tuesday, as quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle. "If that's something they want, we're OK with it. They have to play great every night if they want to get even close to that record.

"Our thing is: If we do get close to it along the way in what we're trying to accomplish, then, 'Hey, that's incredible and awesome.' "

Reigning Kia MVP Stephen Curry said, "You obviously have to play at a very high level to win, especially at that point in the season, when teams are fighting for playoff positioning. We'll worry about that when we get there."

The arguments against targeting Chicago's record basically comes down to energy and priority. Perhaps more than ever, in this modern, post-Gregg Popovich, roster-resting NBA, there is a dread of burn out for fear that a little extra game time in February might lead to dead legs in May.

GameTime: Warriors Or Spurs?

Mike Fratello and Grant Hill debate if the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs are the top team in the Association.

As Curry said Tuesday, "I think you're wasting energy thinking about chasing them. We need to focus on what we need to do to be our best come April."

Of course, when the Bulls reached their 72-10 high-water mark, Jordan played all 82 games and averaged 37.7 minutes. Pippen averaged 36.7 in 77. It's been said that Jackson got his stars rest in the fourth quarters of blowout victories, of which there were many. Yet down the stretch -- an 8-2 run over the final 10 -- Jordan averaged 32.5 and Pippen 34.0. Jordan did play 30 minutes or less in five of those, Pippen four.

Another potential pitfall: embarrassment. How proud would the Warriors be if they won 72 or 73 times, but wound up merely watching playoff games after the first or second round? Of the 10 teams that finished with the best regular-season records, eight of them went on to snag the NBA championship. Only the 1972-73 Boston Celtics (68-14) and the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks (67-15) failed to finish the job.

But there are compelling, maybe even persuasive reasons to keep pushing, chasing and targeting. Among them:

Claiming the best record in NBA history is no small thing. There's a reason why people remember those '95-96 Bulls, as distinct from the five other Chicago championships of the 1990s. There was a reason folks knew about the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers -- whose streak of 33 consecutive victories Golden State chased from the season's start before stalling at 24 -- after they established a 69-13 mark that stood as the league's best for a quarter century. Before that, it was the 1066-67 Philadelphia 76ers' 68-13.

Inside Access: Warriors vs. Cavs

The Warriors headed to Cleveland for another Finals rematch, and this time, they unreeled a dominant performance.

Said Walton: "I didn't realize how truly impressive [Chicago's 72-10 year] was until I got to the NBA and saw how hard and long the season is, and how much more there is to winning games. ... I thought that record would never be touched."

Pushing hard toward 73 is a great way to stay sharp. The Warriors appeared to enjoy their long winning streak and the history it brought within their grasp, and some within the locker room feel it contributed to the edge with which they played, the confidence with which this team brims. Toward the end, things got a little lax. The Warriors won a few times without playing all that way.

In spite of Monday's rout of Cleveland, though, it's not as if the 14-4 Warriors post-streak have cleaned up all flaws or benefited from the absence of pressure. "We've had a lot of slippage," assistant coach Ron Adams said. "We've cut way too many corners to do what we want to do this year. Our approach to the games has been, 'OK, let's get it done.' It doesn't work that way. It didn't work that way in Detroit the other night."

Lollygagging through the final 40, trying to pace themselves without overexerting, isn't likely the best way to cinch things up.

Pushing hard toward 73 might be essential. For all their success, the object in the Warriors' rear-view mirror -- San Antonio -- definitely is closer than it might appear. Just two games back, the Spurs -- in the time starting on Dec. 12 that Golden State has gone 14-4 -- have gone 17-1. In fact, Adams thinks that crew -- with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and the rest -- might have an equal or greater shot of matching Chicago's famous 72-10 mark, especially with the Warriors out front so far as the season's rabbit.

Inside The NBA: Evaluating The Top Teams

Kenny, Shaq and Chuck take a hard look at the Spurs, Cavaliers and the Warriors.

Any showdown in the Western Conference finals between those clubs would make a Game 7 at home incredibly valuable, at least psychologically and probably for all the right basketball reasons. If chasing history helps the Warriors or the Spurs snag that, no one ought to second-guess the energy or priority dedicated to it.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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