CHICAGO — The Golden State Warriors are sick of the question by now, but at this particular stop on their Midwest road trip, it was impossible not to at least think about it. The “72” banner that hangs in the rafters of the United Center next to the Chicago Bulls’ six championship banners was staring them in the face, and you would have to be naive to think Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and the rest of the visiting squad didn’t notice.
“Me and Draymond were stretching on the scorer’s table before the game,” Curry said on Wednesday after the Warriors’ 125-94 rout of the Bulls, which improved their record to 39-4. “And when you hear the intro song [the Alan Parsons Project’s “Sirius”], that anthem, it brings back a lot of memories of the Jordan Bulls teams. It brings back some goosebumps.”
As much as the Warriors insist they’re staying focused on the present and not worrying about the possibility of eclipsing the 1995-96 Bulls’ 72-win benchmark, the history attached to the building they played in and the team they faced Wednesday night was tough for even them to ignore.
“I don’t know what that song is called,” Green said of the iconic “Sirius” intro. “I call it the Jordan song. When I hear it, I think Michael Jordan. That’s what the song is to me. I looked at Steph, and I was just like, ‘Yo…” And he was like, ‘Man…’ That song gets me every time. It’s always fun to come and play here. When you hear that, I think back to those days of watching Jordan, watching Space Jam, all that stuff.”
But once the music stopped, the Warriors were as locked in as ever. If the mystique of that 72-win record got to them, they didn’t show it. And frankly, they have more important things to worry about. Despite this incredible start, they’re only two-and-a-half games up on the San Antonio Spurs in the standings.
Those are the same Spurs on pace to have the best point differential in NBA history.
“We’re halfway through, but we’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” Green said. “If we get better each and every game, the wins will take care of themselves. But our goal is to get better and prepare for the playoffs. If [72 wins] happens, great. But if not, it’s not the end of the world.”
This was supposed to be the week the Warriors came back down to earth. Following an 18-point loss to the Pistons in Detroit, they found themselves faced with a stretch of schedule that included a Finals rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers and then two games against Eastern Conference playoff contenders in the Bulls and Indiana Pacers. On top of that, their most anticipated matchup yet is forthcoming against the Spurs—the only team that can truly be considered on their level.
With those challenges, they were supposed to take a step back, and the 72-win dream was supposed to die.
So far, the opposite has been true. The Warriors beat the Cavs by 34 points in Cleveland and followed it up two nights later with the 31-point win in Chicago. Rather than trigger a letdown, the loss in Detroit has made Golden State redouble its focus, resulting in a team more dangerous than ever as it enters a crucial part of the schedule.
“Sometimes, you’re at home for a while and you forget how hard it is to win on the road,” Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton said. “You fly across the country with no practice, and they’re getting ready to play the NBA champs. That happens to every team, every season. There’s no team that doesn’t have nights like that. Normally, our guys bounce back very well after not playing well. I think they got embarrassed by Detroit kicking our butts, and they refocused and locked in, and the last two games have been great.”
Wednesday’s game was textbook Warriors: They shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc as a team and had 38 assists on 50 made field goals to just 10 turnovers. Six Golden State players scored in double figures, and the team held Chicago to 37 percent shooting from the field.
That defensive focus is something that also returned after the Pistons loss.
“We’ve gotten caught up in trying to outscore teams,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. "A couple of those games, we got caught up in, ‘We’re just going to roll out here, we know we’re going to win.’ And it was kind of an open-gym type of feel. Coming out here against some quality teams, we knew we had to get our defensive swagger back. What happened in Detroit wasn’t so much a bad thing for us because I think it woke us up.“
As unbelievable as it is that a 39-4 team needed to be woken up, it’s a mentality that keeps the dream of a 72-win season alive. Even though they say they don’t think about it.
“We’ve got 40 games still,” Walton said. “We’ve got a hard schedule. We’re a long way away from that. I can only speak for myself, but I’m not thinking about that.”
If the Warriors keep playing with this focus, this kind of history isn’t so far-fetched.