PHOENIX — In the last 365 days or a little longer, depending on who’s counting, three teams have defeated the formidable Golden State Warriors on their home court at Oracle Arena.
Let’s see, the Cleveland Cavaliers stole Game 2 of the NBA Finals in that building this past June in an overtime affair, a series that saw Golden State claim the championship by winning three of the next four games.
The Memphis Grizzlies won Game 2 of their semifinal series at Oracle, even taking a 2-1 lead before falling in six. They returned to Oracle a couple weeks ago, hoping to reclaim some of that mojo only to get slapped with a 50-point whipping that wasn’t even that close.
So what fate awaits the Bulls, the last team to beat Golden State at Oracle in the regular season? If the last two examples are any indication, pain could be on the menu and lots of it.
Entering Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors are undefeated at 12-0, winning more games by double-digits than anything else (a +15.3 point differential) and riding the wave of disrespect that came from critics who intimated they were “lucky” by circumstances out of their control in last spring’s romp to the title by taking it out on the NBA as a whole, looking more dominant than the team that won 67 games last season.
The Bulls have the muscle memory of knowing they can win in almost impossible circumstances, although they could be without Derrick Rose (ankle), the man who hit the game-winner in last year’s improbable win.
Rose scored 30 (on 33 shots and committed 11 turnovers) but hit a step-back jumper on Klay Thompson with seven seconds remaining.
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“He did a little bit. He didn’t do anything on the floor,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It was all just warm-up stuff, so it’s still too early to tell if he’ll be able to go tomorrow.”
Since then, 25 straight regular-season games at Oracle and all of them have resulted the same, with the Warriors most likely galloping off the court with a slew of highlights or in a rare case, breathing a sigh of relief, such as their surprising overtime win against the pathetic Brooklyn Nets Saturday.
Either way, it’s 25-0 and considering the Bulls could be without Rose and will certainly be without Aaron Brooks (hamstring), they’ll likely be facing an onslaught of threes from MVP Stephen Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson.
Curry’s numbers are unfathomable and his development unpredictable, elevating himself to the “best shooter of all time” category while simultaneously entering the greatest point guard conversation, meaning it’s safe to say the Bulls will be consumed with the slightly-built assassin.
Curry leads the NBA in scoring at 33.7 points per game, adding 5.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds and hitting five triples a game, taking and making more than a couple teams have this year.
And his Player Efficiency Rating of 34.9 is Jordan and Chamberlain-esque.
“You have to plan your gameplan around a superstar,” Hoiberg said. “You did it when you played the old Bulls teams with Michael (Jordan), with LeBron, that’s where it starts with that team. The same thing with Golden State with Steph. But they have other guys who can hurt you as well. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green is a key in their success. Harrison Barnes. If you take away one guy and have your whole defensive plan, they’ll hurt you in other ways.”
To wit, the Warriors are doing this without head coach Steve Kerr, recovering from offseason back surgery, and the former Bull has left Luke Walton in his place—to which the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.
They’re sharing the ball as well as anyone and still defending like a hungry team that lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, not like one who should be high off the fat of summertime parades and well-wishes from fans all around.
“It’s impossible to guard,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. “The way (Curry) playing right now is out of his mind. Not seeing crazy amounts of them but seeing bits and pieces of him because we’re always playing and busy traveling. It’s fun to watch. Nobody has found an answer for it yet. We’ll see.”
Jimmy Butler, he of the fourth-quarter 14-point (32 overall) masterpiece in Phoenix, wants the assignment of guarding the league’s most explosive player.
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“Again, he’s gonna spend some time on him, no doubt about that but other guys will have to step up to the challenge,” Hoiberg said. “You’re right, Jimmy almost played 43 minutes last night.”
And they’ll likely have to survive an early onslaught to repeat last January’s performance.
“We just stuck with it,” Hinrich said. “They came out and hit us on the head right away. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Got up on us. Somehow we were able to stay with it, not get down and found ourselves sneaking a win.”
And if that happens, plenty of teams will be calling up the Bulls asking for the blueprints of the escape from Alcatraz.