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After loss to Spurs, Warriors get chance to bounce back

Golden State, San Antonio have yet to lose consecutive games, a feat never accomplished in an NBA season

POSTED: Mar 20, 2016 1:02 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


The Golden State Warriors are on the clock.

Actually, on the calendar might be more like it, because the NBA's defending champions typically count in weeks and months, not hours and days, between consecutive defeats. But in the wake of their 87-79 loss in San Antonio Saturday, the Warriors face anew the prospect of their first losing streak of the 2015-16 season.

Their next game is Monday, at Minnesota, and while Target Center doesn't exactly loom as any sort of mine field for Golden State -- which has won eight straight on the Timberwolves' court -- it does present a potential speed bump.

Within their modest total of 22 victories, the Wolves have a modest formula for success: They are 11-7 when they hold an opponent under 100 points, 12-11 when they limit the other guys to less than 45 percent field-goal accuracy, 20-11 when they shoot better than their foes and 15-10 when leading or tied after three quarters. San Antonio did all four of those things Saturday against the Warriors and stretched its home winning streak against them to 33 victories.

It was only the sixth time all season Golden State failed to crack 100 -- its record is 1-5 in those games -- but then, the Spurs rank first in the NBA in defensive rating (95.6) and the Wolves, er, do not (107.2, good for 28th place). Minnesota on paper doesn't have the star power, the defensive intensity or the offensive potency to hang with the Warriors for long. though it's worth noting that on a visit to Minneapolis 13 months ago, the Warriors went scoreless for nearly four minutes in the final quarter, led by only two with about three minutes left and eked out a 94-91 victory.

Inside the NBA: How Many Wins for Warriors?

The crew discuss how many wins the Warriors will finish with by the end of the season.

Of course, Golden State's players and coaches surely remember that -- same as they did when they blew out Minnesota 129-116 in November -- and still have fresh in their minds the loss hung on them Saturday. Sure, it will be the Warriors' third game in four nights, all on the road. They probably still will be without Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli and Andrew Bogut, same as they were against the Spurs.

But as lethal as they are when they're rested and on a roll, they've been even deadlier when wounded and cranky.

Consider: Golden State's average margin of victory this season is 11.2 points. Its average winning margin in the next game immediately after a loss: 15.0. That includes the 34-point pasting of the Cavaliers in Cleveland Jan. 18, 48 hours after an uncharacteristically poor performance and loss in Detroit.

Interestingly, the Warriors aren't the only NBA team this season to avoid even the inkling of a losing streak; the Spurs also haven't lost two in a row yet this season. Which means that, after 68 seasons in which no team in league history ever avoided a two-game losing streak, both Golden State and San Antonio are on track to do so.

The Spurs actually have bounced back better than the Warriors and have been tested more often. Their average margin of victory is 12.3 points, but in the games immediately following losses it's been 18.6. San Antonio has lost 10 times and only once beaten its next opponent by fewer than 10 points (119-113 over the Lakers, 24 hours after getting drubbed by the Clippers by 19 points). Half of the Spurs' bounce-back victories have been by at least 20 points.

Coincidence to have two elite teams on the verge of doing what no other in NBA annals has done? Probably not. The Warriors and the Spurs have been holding each other to the highest standards and slippage of the slightest sort -- a teensy two-game skid -- might be enough to tighten the narrow gap between them and throw off one of these finely tuned machines.

Interestingly, two NHL teams -- the Washington Capitals and the Dallas Stars -- made it to January without stacking up consecutive regulation losses. Dallas couldn't sustain it but Washington has -- with an asterisk, since it has three two-game losing streaks if you count overtime and shootout defeats.

Will Warriors Beat Bulls 72-10 Record?

Will they actually get there? We're getting closer and closer.

Losing two in a row need not be fatal. Every previous NBA champion has done it, obviously. That includes Golden State, which did it four separate times last season and then twice more in the playoffs without paying any particular price. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls dropped games No. 45 and No. 46 and still posted the best single season record in history, 72-10.

But the team that previously went the deepest into an NBA season without losing successive games, the 1984-85 Boston Celtics, lost games No. 74 and 75 and then No. 81 and 82. They dropped two in a row twice in the Finals that year, losing to the Lakers, and after their 59-14 start, finished the season and postseason with a more ordinary 17-13 mark.

Other great teams have survived. The 1985-86 Celtics lost two in a row en route to a 67-15 mark and the NBA title. The 1971-72 Lakers team that strung together a record 33 victories dropped two in a row twice. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers lost three straight (and four of five) midway through but weren't derailed.

In four of their five championship seasons, the Spurs -- with coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan around for all -- endured three-game losing streaks without being deterred from their ultimate goal. But there's something pure, and clearly rare, about a team that holds itself accountable immediately, cleans up errors or areas of weakness in just 24 or 48 hours and then punishes the next opponent available the way the Warriors and the Spurs have.

Will either or both make it this season? Hard to say, with Golden State facing the test Monday. But the allure is undeniable, for no NBA team has ever gone an entire season without losing two in a row and not won the championship.

Hold that thought: If the Warriors and the Spurs meet in the playoffs and pummel each other in a W-L-W-L-W-L-W pattern through seven games, they both could avoid the losing streak with only one winning the title.

To which most NBA fans' response should be: Yes, please.

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

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