The Greatest Show on Earth used to be the circus. Now, without question, it's the Golden State Warriors and their ringleader Stephen Curry who is making everyone in the NBA jump through hoops to catch up.
After Wednesday's 134-121 win over the Wizards, who put up as good of a fight as can be expected under the circumstances, the Warriors (45-4) won their eight in a row in their march towards history of eclipsing the 72-win Chicago Bulls. Curry scored 36 of his game-high 51 points by halftime.
John Wall set a season high with 41 points with 17 of 25 shooting. He made 3 of 4 three-point shots while Curry drained 11 of 16. It's a pace that's impossible to keep up against the most prolific scorer in the game.
“John is a stud," said Don Newman, an assistant coach for the Wizards who is filling in for Randy Wittman who is away on personal leave. "He comes to war, he loves the game, and he's one of those guys who has a big, big heart.”
The San Antonio Spurs set the standard, implementing a pressure offense like the Mike D'Antoni Phoenix Suns but with better defensive principles.
The Warriors, with Steve Kerr as a first-year coach, took it to the next level when they won the NBA championship last season after 67 wins -- and now they've gone beyond even that. GM Bob Meyers, an agent-turned-front-office guru and former player at UCLA, has built a roster that has star power, elite wing defenders, versatile bigs and flat out scorers who can play in the open court or half court.
"I couldn't have imagined this level of play," Kerr said. "It's a sign of our roster, what a great job Bob and his staff is doing putting a roster together and the competitiveness of our players. We got some guys, they're killers. They hate to lose. That's one of the reasons we're able to maintain a pretty high level of play."
Everyone can't be Golden State because Draymond Green, a 6-9 "tweener," is rare. He's not the most athletic player in the world but he's fundamentally sound. Assign a player against him who is too small like Jared Dudley and he'll post him up and score at will. Put a traditional big on him like Marcin Gortat, Green will stretch to the three-point line and bury the open shot or beat him off the dribble. Try to double the ball out of Green's hands, he'll find the open man because Golden State can spread the floor with four other shooters like Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa.
Green had a triple-double on just five shots with 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He also added five blocked shots. When Curry needed a breather, they went with a former Wizard, Shaun Livingston, in the fourth quarter. He scored eight of his nine points there to keep them 8-12 points ahead.
When the Wizards were OK with Kevin Seraphin leaving as a free agent and moving Nene to be Gortat's backup at center before the season, this is what they hoped to capture with pace and space. Realistically, transforming a team into a juggernaut over night isn't going to happen. They want to integrate these stretch principles, which they have successfully with Dudley starting at power forward, but maintain their defensive posture.
The latter part has been the issue. The Wizards have allowed an average of 118 points in their last six games. Curry's three-point accuracy joins a long line of shooters who have had a field day against this defense, from C.J. Miles (8 of 9) to Paul George (7 of 8) to Wesley Matthews (10 of 17).
The way to beat Golden State isn't to try to be Golden State, but mixing up coverages, turning them over and hoping at some point Curry and Thompson cool off from long range. The Wizards trapped Curry more in the second half to slow him down when they made their run to make it a one possession game.
"I don't think it's trying to match them small. It's just going out there and playing basketball. You play big against those guys, Draymond Green he's proven he's a good defender in the low post guarding bigger guys and he spaces the floor on the offensive end," Wall said. "I don't think anybody is doing everything they're trying to do. It's very rare you'll be able to say that because they have two shooters that you probably haven't seen in the backcourt at one time. Everybody, the whole NBA is starting to play small. That's just the evolution of the NBA, how the new era is going."
They'd like to get a younger version of Drew Gooden, a 6-10 stretch four who is 34. They need a physically strong wing defender who can slot ahead of Otto Porter, who has been unspectacular at times now that he's the starter, and Kelly Oubre, a 20-year-old rookie who still has a lot to learn but has the greater physical tools.
In a league of their own, Golden State is poised to be the standard bearer in the NBA. Not San Antonio, which is older.
"Our roster is perfectly suited for the modern game because we can adapt. We can play small but we also have a good big lineup with (Andrew) Bogut and Draymond. Draymond is kind of key to all that," Kerr said. "He's whatever we need him to be. He can guard anybody on the floor. We can play him at the 4, the 5, he can switch out on the point guards. It's hard to find guys like that. I know the modern game is getting smaller and smaller with more three-point shooting. Our roster is well-suited for that. We adapt to whatever we're facing each night."
On this night, the Wizards couldn't adapt to Curry. But they have gotten used to the rock-star treatment they get everywhere they go. The Warriors had to gut out a win at the Philadelphia 76ers over the weekend on a buzzer-beating shot. This was the seventh sellout at Verizon Center for the Wizards.
"Our guys are used to this now. The media horde in the Finals maybe our guys weren't quite used to it. That was something we had to get accustomed to. Maybe it took a couple games to settle down in that series," Kerr said of their eventual six-game win vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. "Once you go through that experience, everything pales in comparison. The media hype is with us every game. It doesn't bother us. In fact I think some of our guys thrive on it, the energy of the crowd.
"Philadelphia was electric the other night. That hasn't been the case in that city for the last few years obviously. The crowd was fantastic. Every game is a big game. It makes us better. It gets us prepared, ready. It puts us on edge."