Those worried that the Golden State Warriors may prematurely stop chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 all-time regular-season record could be in luck.
If the Warriors played in the East, like the Cleveland Cavaliers do, they would be so far in front of the rest of their conference that they could begin to shut down their stars in early-to-mid March and they wouldn’t jeopardize their odds at securing a home-court advantage in the playoffs.
But the Warriors (38-4) have a legitimate adversary in the San Antonio Spurs (36-6), who are just two games back in the loss column with a highly anticipated matchup between the two title favorites — their first of four meetings this season — looming Jan. 25 at Oracle.
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San Antonio is preventing Golden State from becoming complacent, which Klay Thompson thinks is pushing their play to another level — and is something that the Cavaliers unfortunately don’t have — according to Yahoo Sports:
“It pushes us,” Thompson told Yahoo. “It definitely makes us better, knowing that they’re behind us. They’re playing great. It’s going to be fun when we see them next week. There are some good teams behind the Cavs in the East, but not a monster like San Antonio. But that’s going to make us better, to be honest with you.”
To suggest the Warriors’ success is solely because of the Spurs’ impressive play would be a stretch — and a discredit to how historically great the Dubs have been this year — but it’s certainly played a factor lately.
Golden State has been as dominant over the past month or so, which has allowed San Antonio to make up ground and make the race for the No. 1 seed in the West more interesting than it was supposed to be at this point in the season.
The Warriors are the ones chasing the Bulls — though the Spurs, winners of 11 straight, can enter the conversation if they keep rolling — but they might even be the best team this season.
The Spurs have actually been the better team, despite a worse record. The Spurs have a better point differential (14.2 compared to the Warriors’ 11.7) and net rating (14.9 compared to the Dubs’ 13.3) this season, which is generally more indicative of future success than record is.
The Cavs, on the other hand, doesn’t have anyone pushing them right now. They’re not going to catch the Warriors or Spurs for the No. 1-overall seed. The Toronto Raptors are four games back in the loss column from them for No. 1 in the East, but the Cavs are still the considerable favorites and will likely roll to the Finals.
They simply don’t have the pressure on them to play their best every night, and unless they can summon a way to create that hunger themselves, they may be worse off in the long run, as Thompson seems to imply.
The real winner here isn’t the Warriors, but actually NBA fans, who now get to enjoy a historic race for the No. 1 overall seed the rest of the season.
Jovan Buha covers the NBA for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jovanbuha.