Phil Jackson knows domination.
He coached 11 NBA championship teams, including arguably the most fearsome ever in the 1995-96 Bulls of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. It seemed teams almost were relieved to merely lose instead of being embarrassed.
"Teams wait to lose when they know how tough the game will be," Jackson wrote in an email when I asked him about what makes that kind of greatness. "There are some teams that relish the opportunity to take down the ‘big dogs.' Teams that have that momentum find a way or somebody steps up to make big plays. We had a couple of guys that could make big plays in MJ/Pip/Shaq/Kobe, which is a difference maker for winners."
The Bulls get to witness and experience that Wednesday when they play arguably the most dominant team in NBA history.
The Golden State Warriors, who beat the Bulls by 49 points in November and are back on top of the NBA with a 36-9 record and 13 straight road wins, come into the United Center after a surgical dissection of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday. James, one could see, really, really wanted that one back in Cleveland. The Warriors seemed to trifle with the Cavaliers for three quarters and then just dispose of them like some annoying pest.
The great teams do that, and this is the rare and one time only per season chance in Chicago to see this amazing Warriors team with two league MVPs in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, all-league shooter Klay Thompson and Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green. Though with Coach of the Year Steve Kerr, the former Bull from those 1996-98 championship teams, it's more than individual talent.
The Warriors score more baskets on assists than any other team, and by a lot. Viewed as a three-point shooting group, they are equally adept at layups and mid range shots through admirable and unparalleled, at least for this era, ball and player movement. They define that NBA cliche about playing the right way.
"They're so good," marveled Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "They know where each other is on the floor at all times; they don't even look. It's a fun team to watch, not a fun team to play. They are a historic team. You look at a couple years ago when they were 73-9 and then you add Kevin Durant to the picture. Yeah, when they're healthy and they're hitting shots, there's not a lot you can do."
Bulls assistant coach Randy Brown knows about being part of that. He played off the bench for the 1996-98 champions.
"We'd joke when we were playing in the United Center and they played the (Alan Parsons Project's Sirius) introduction, once that thing was over we'd be up 20 points, already," Brown said with a laugh. "With our team it was a lot of confidence. We had the talent and with one of the greatest players to ever play the game you had a chance to win every game. But Phil had a real strength of keeping us engaged, making sure we stayed focused on games. It was always a challenge because every time you knew you were getting a team's best shot."
That confidence was contagious on those kinds of teams.
New York Knicks assistant Jerry Sichting played off the bench for those 1986 Celtics, who also were 10-0 at home in the playoffs for a 50-1 home season and swept Jordan's Bulls.
"It was a cocky team," recalls Sichting. "You never thought anyone would beat you. And with a player like Larry Bird you felt you always had someone who would make a big play in the clutch. At times it seems hard to lose. You begin to take on that kind of identity when you're on a team like that. I remember my first interview there as a free agent with K.C. Jones. I'd come from a Pacers team that wasn't very good. He said, ‘What we do here is we try to win every game.' I knew I had some catching up to do."
But it was more than flash; it also was hard work and the essentials and a serious nature amidst the entertainment.
"Phil was a stickler on executing, following game plans, keeping everyone sharp with fundamentals," said Brown. "Many places you looked around and the fans were cheering for us because we played the right way. Everybody shared, a fun way to play. Phil hated the term, ‘garbage time.' He'd say, ‘There is no such thing on this team, that you're here to get better every minute.'"
That's also evident in these Warriors despite their talent that with Durant exceeds any in the NBA. It's a coaching staff that remains demanding and never satisfied.
"I don't know if we're that kind of team to intimidate like Jordan," said Warriors assistant Ron Adams. "He was a mass murderer, right? I look at our team and when we let down we can get busted. But that (81 points) first half against Toronto; that was offensively unbelievable. It's hard to imagine anyone ever having had a better half."
That's what the Warriors can do with their shooting, movement, defensive play.
And have fun. Curry may be the most likable trash talker ever with his playful expressiveness. Green, perhaps not as likable, but entertainly combustible. No one quite knows what to make of Durant now that he's taken on a faux tough guy mien. But he's also third in the league in blocks while fifth in scoring, the stuff of Wilt, Shaq and Hakeem. And he plays mostly 25 feet from the basket.
This is a basketball team that's probably one big reason Ringling Brothers gave up. It's difficult to compete with that show.
The Warriors with that 73-9 season in 2015-16 have won 83 percent of their games the last four seasons, which is a greater winning percentage than any run in NBA history. They've moved out again to the best record and are leaving the contenders in the Western Conference far behind. Like with Jordan's Bulls, the conventional wisdom is how does anyone beat them four times in two weeks?
The Bulls are just starting on that quest with rookie Lauri Markkanen setting an all-time rookie record for most threes, Kris Dunn enjoying success in his inaugural run as starting point guard and Zach LaVine just back from knee surgery, 2-0 in his brief return with outstanding athletic play and shooting.
"What they do is just different than what any other team has done before, especially with the type of players they have and the system they use," LaVine told reporters at practice Tuesday. "It's definitely a team you look up to. But you can't look up to them too much because you're competing with them and trying to beat them as well.
"What we're trying to do is take their winning pedigree," LaVine added. "We all want to be in the same position that they've been the last four years, a team that turned it around in a season, a season-and-a-half, went to the playoffs and then went to a championship the next year. I think that's the most that you try and take away from their team.'
The 2011-12 Warriors with young draft picks Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were 23-43 in that labor stoppage season. The next season adding No. 7 overall draft pick Harrison Barnes, the Warriors won 47 games. Then 51 and then a championship three years after their last losing season.
"It's phenomenal what we've done," says Adams. "Hopefully, we'll continue."
The Most Dominant Teams in NBA History
1995-96 Bulls. They were 72-10 with a point differential of 12.2 per game, just barely off the all-time record of 12.3. It was the beginning of a three-year run of domination in which they won 82 percent of their games with a second season with a chance for 70 wins again until backing off late and losing three of the last four games to finish with 69. A 62-20 season was the low point. Michael Jordan wasn't at his athletic best, but most intimidating and revered after 19 months away in baseball. With Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, they were probably the greatest show ever in sports.
1985-86 Boston Celtics. They were a record 40-1 at home with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish supported in a unique one-year return to greatness for Bill Walton. No front court likely ever was more overwhelming, more passing oriented with Hall of Fame stars. They may have been the best team ever to execute their offense with precision.
1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers. They were the second coming of the model fast break after the 60s Celtics with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy and later to K.C. Jones and Sam Jones. The 1986-87 Lakers of Magic, Kareem and Worthy did with their transition game to bookend with the '86 Celtics as the supreme teams of that 80s decade, regarded by many as the NBA's best. Nuggets coach Doug Moe famously said before the opening of their playoff series with his team he didn't see how they could win a game. They didn't.
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. They have the all-time point differential record at 12.3 per game and record 33-game regular season winning streak, finally stopped in a Game of the Ages by Milwaukee and Kareem and Oscar. It was Wilt not only persuaded to pass and rebound, but come to just-made-up shootarounds by coach Bill Sharman. Jerry West and Gail Goodrich were maybe the shootingest pair before Steph and Klay.
1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks. They were barely behind the 1971-72 Lakers for point different record, tied with the Bulls at 12.2. That was the team that added Oscar Robertson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They were 14 games better in the standings than the next best team, swept the Finals and were easy 4-1s in the previous rounds. Though power records were somewhat skewed in that time because of massive expansions to counter the ABA.
1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. They had their battles with the Celtics and Bill Russell, so there never would be the total domination of later eras because there never has been a rivalry like Russell and Wilt. But they were the first team to power mow through the league like it was tall grass. They were with Wilt and Billy Cunningham off the bench on the way to 70 wins, though since it didn't mean anything then they took a late season breather in Las Vegas.
1959-60 Boston Celtics. No list of dominant teams ever would be complete without the Celtics' Russell and Bob Cousy fast break. And that was with future Hall of Famers Sam Jones and K.C. Jones coming off the bench behind Cousy and Bill Sharman. The next closest team won 10 fewer games. It was going to be difficult to be too dominant after that with the 1960 rookie class including Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Lenny Wilkens.
2017-18 Golden State Warriors?