Warriors

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

OAKLAND – They don’t celebrate 50-win seasons around here. Not anymore. Not when it’s a mere signpost along the way to something worth cherishing.

That’s what 50 wins has become for the Warriors. When they hit No. 50 on Sunday with an indistinct 121-114 victory over the Detroit Pistons, there was but the slightest few moments of reflection.

“Pretty impressive,” coach Steve Kerr said.

“It’s special to be a part of something so great as these last six of seven years have been for us,” Draymond Green said.

Beg pardon? Impressive? Special? For a franchise that reached 50 wins four times in its first five decades in the Bay Area to string together six consecutive such seasons is right out of the late Franklin Mieuli’s wildest fantasy.

Mieuli owned the Warriors for the first 24 years (1962-86) of their Bay Area existence, first in San Francisco and then in Oakland. The Warriors reached 50 wins twice in that span.

Mieuli sold the team to Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane, who owned the Warriors for nine seasons (1986-95), during which there were two 50-win seasons.

The Chris Cohan ownership lasted 15 seasons (1995-2010) and never saw a 50-win season. The most successful team under Cohan was the 2006-07 “We Believe” squad that finished two games over .500 (42-40) – enough to be revered for eternity.

Among the few employees remaining from the Cohan era is Stephen Curry, drafted one year before the current ownership group, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. The Warriors were 25-56 in Curry’s rookie season, 36-46 the following season and 23-43 in his third season. So there was a time . . .

Curry knows, as do the team’s longtime fans, how absurd this turnaround has been.

“It’s surreal, to be honest, when you talk about the history of the organization and how hard it is to win NBA games, win championships and string together year after year after year,” he said. “It takes a collection of talented guys, a commitment to trying to put together the best team possible every year. And that’s the front office, the coaching staff, all the way down.”

The Warriors and their fans have evolved from the years of praying for the playoffs to the annual expectation of championship parade. They once hoped for satisfactory. They now anticipate excellence.

“When I came here, I think there was a 23-win season the year before that,” said Green, who was drafted in 2012, three seasons after Curry. “The next year was my rookie year and we made the playoffs and we won (47) games. To have the run that we’re currently having, it’s a special thing.

“But in saying that, we get the opportunity to do it with a special group of guys, a special organization, a special coaching staff, a special ownership group, a special front office. It’s more about the people that you come work with every day. That’s what makes runs like this possible. That’s what makes runs like this sustainable.”

[RELATED: Kerr's message after Mavericks loss]

The Warriors were 51-31 in Mark Jackson’s final season as coach. They’ve since won 67, 73, 67, 58. Here in Year 5, they are at 50 – and counting.

Which is why, in part, Kerr says he didn’t sweat that putrid performance the Warriors laid down Saturday in a 35-point loss to Dallas at Oracle.

“It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally and spiritually, trying to defend the crown, trying to win the title, trying to stay on top of the mountain,” Kerr said. “It’s hard. And last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank.

“The great thing about this team . . . is they always bounce back because they have so much pride. What they have accomplished – this team has the best record over the last four seasons (265-63) as any four-year run in the history of the NBA. What they have done is just remarkable. Last night was tough, but it’s really tough to do what they have done, too. We’re going to give them a pass and we are going to move on.”

Understand, 50 wins guarantees nothing in the postseason. The NBA graveyard is replete with headstones marking the first-round demise of 50-win teams. In the first of their six 50-win seasons, 2013-14, the Warriors were such a team, ousted in seven by the hated Clippers.

[RELATED: KD, Kerr on six-shot night]

Here’s the one thing a succession of 50-win seasons can assure: Respect. That’s something the Warriors had to earn.

“I have a true appreciation for what we’ve been able to do,” Curry said. “But I want to continue this for as long as we can.”

Why Raptors are better matchup for Warriors in NBA Finals than Bucks

Why Raptors are better matchup for Warriors in NBA Finals than Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kawhi Leonard?

Khris Middleton, or Pascal Siakam?

Brook Lopez, or Marc Gasol?

Eric Bledsoe, or Kyle Lowry?

The Warriors know they will face either the Bucks or Raptors for the 2019 NBA Championship, but as for which team presents the tougher matchup, it's a toss-up.

Just look at the current state of the Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee looked absolutely dominant, winning the first two games at home before the script flipped entirely in Games 3 and 4 in Toronto.

The result? A series that is now tied at two games apiece. The Bucks and Raptors appear quite evenly matched, and it's anyone's guess as to who will ultimately prevail out of the East.

In making quick work of the Blazers in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors left themselves plenty of time to rest up before the Finals begin. They'll have more than a week in between games, offering adequate time to ponder questions such as: which opponent would be a better matchup for Golden State?

While the margin between the two teams is razor-thin, there's reason to believe the Warriors would match up slightly better with the Raptors than they would the Bucks.

There were only two teams in the league that ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating during the regular season: The Bucks and Raptors. Milwaukee ranked marginally better than Toronto in both categories, and they've maintained their close correlation into the playoffs, where the Bucks and Raptors rank first and second, respectively, in defensive rating.

The Bucks, however, are averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions during postseason play -- fourth among all playoff teams -- compared to 107.5 for the Raptors, which ranks ninth.

Still, those playoff numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, as they've been accrued against different opponents. The Bucks finished with the best record in the league during the regular season, so they had a somewhat easier path to the Eastern Conference finals than the Raptors did.

Milwaukee swept Detroit in the first round, and then after a brief hiccup in Game 1 against the Celtics, finished off Boston in five games. Meanwhile, Toronto dropped their very first game of the playoffs to the Magic before eliminating Orlando in five games, and then only narrowly advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after perhaps the most dramatic game-winning shot in NBA playoff history in Game 7 against Philadelphia.

As such, the Raptors played three more games than the Bucks on their way to the conference finals, and are guaranteed to have played at least two more playoff games than Golden State should they meet in the Finals.

So, the Warriors would have a slightly larger collective "load" advantage against the Raptors than they would against the Bucks, but again, it's minimal. That said, the fact that Golden State will have nine days of rest before the Finals begin -- while the Eastern Conference representative could have as few as two, -- could exacerbate the Dubs' advantage.

[RELATED: Raptors tying series with Bucks furthers Dubs' advantage]

Both teams excel on both ends of the court. Both are led by legitimate MVP candidates, two of the very best talents the game has to offer. Both finished with better regular-season records than the Warriors, so both would have homecourt advantage over Golden State.

So why the Raptors?

As we know, rotations shorten in the playoffs and typically more so the deeper in postseason play. The Warriors had the luxury of extending their rotation against the inferior Blazers, but that won't be the same case against either the Bucks or Raptors.
And the Bucks' shortened rotation appears slightly more threatening to Golden State than the Raptors'.

Milwaukee likely would trot out a nine-man main rotation for the Finals, whereas it might be difficult for Toronto to find that many playable guys in a series against Golden State. Of those nine Bucks players, more than half of them shot better than 35 percent from 3-point range. The Raptors have only four such players on their entire roster.

Two of the Bucks players that fell short of that 35-percent plateau are Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, who -- aside from being extremely proficient interior scorers -- were both named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team on Wednesday. Leonard was the Raptors' sole representative on either of the all-defensive teams, joining Golden State's Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the Second Team.

It's not a big difference, but at this point in the postseason, that makes plenty of sense. The best teams are supposed to advance, and clearly, they have. Whichever team comes out of the East will certainly pose more problems for Golden State than the Blazers did. The Raptors might be a slightly better matchup for the Warriors, but if you think the Dubs are going to waltz to their third consecutive league title, you're kidding yourself.

Ja Morant, top NBA draft prospect, chooses Kevin Durant over LeBron James

Ja Morant, top NBA draft prospect, chooses Kevin Durant over LeBron James

Ja Morant soon will know his first NBA team, but he can't exactly pick his teammates. 

The Murray State guard is considered one of the best prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft. He'll likely be a top three pick come June 20, with many pegging him to the Grizzlies at No. 2 overall.

If he could choose his ultimate starting five, though, he'd only have one Warrior. 

"Whew, it's a tough decision for the 3. I don't know if I'd pick KD or Bron," Morant said on the latest episode of Take it There with Taylor Rooks. "Probably KD. Because Bron, but I feel like I can be that facilitator for this team." 

[RELATED: KD continues feud with Broussard]

Morant rounded out his lineup with himself as the point guard, Paul George at shooting guard, Giannis Antetokounmpo at power forward, and Anthony Davis at center.

Morant averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore this season for Murray State.