To start the 2013-14 season, the Indiana Pacers raced to a 17-2 record, the same mark the Chicago Bulls had barely a quarter of the way through their historic 1995-96 romp.
After consecutive defeats in the Eastern Conference Finals to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, Indiana was hungry to stuff their frustrations down everybody’s throat.
They had emerging superstar Paul George, played great defense and played in the weak East.
It’s never going to happen again. It’s virtually impossible to win 70.
Golden State coach and former Chicago Bulls player Steve Kerr, while serving as a TNT analyst in 2013.
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Add it up, and the thought of the Pacers challenging a feat only Michael Jordan’s Bulls have accomplished in NBA history — reaching 70 wins — seemed at least plausible. Even matching the Bulls’ all-time wins record of 72 didn’t seem totally ridiculous.
Well, it seemed ridiculous to then-TNT analyst Steve Kerr, a key role player on those ’95-96 Bulls. Kerr laughed at a reporter’s 70-win theory.
“It’s never going to happen again,” Kerr said then. “It’s virtually impossible to win 70.”
Back in December 2013, Kerr likely had not yet imagined himself the coach of these juggernaut Golden State Warriors, already NBA champions and 60-6✔ entering Wednesday night’s game against New York and with a date in Dallas on Friday, and barreling toward the Bulls’ record.
“I think everything had to come perfectly together for that Bulls team,” Kerr said of his Bulls team. “But mainly it’s Michael Jordan, on a great team already, winning 10 games on his own during that season that he wouldn’t let us lose.”
Some might say reigning league MVP Stephen Curry of Golden State has been equally as brilliant as Jordan 20 years ago. In 95-96, Jordan, who averaged 30.4 points that season on 49.5 percent shooting(58.2 true-shooting percentage), posted nine games with 40 or more points, including two with more than 50. Entering Wednesday’s game, Curry, averaging 30.4 points this season on 51.2 percent shooting(68 true-shooting percentage), has 12 40-point games and three topping 50 points.
Jordan holds the edge in win shares — an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player in their respective seasons — 20.4 to 14.6, although both players topped the league, and both finished about two points ahead of the next closest competitor.
With this season winding down, the Warriors are ahead of where the 95-96 Bulls were after Game No. 68, which Chicago lost to the 18-47 Toronto Raptors to slip to 60-8.
About the only route left to not make history is for Kerr to pull back. Asked earlier this month how he plans to approach the last few weeks of the season, rest his players if able or go for the record, Kerr said, via Yahoo! Sports: “Honestly, if we are a 70-win team and champions versus a 73-win team and depleted energy and banged up going into the playoffs, we're trying to avoid that. But at the same token, it's a tough balance. How many times are you going to have this opportunity?”
Even the remaining 15-game schedule plays in the Warriors’ favor with nine games at home. They’ve won an NBA record 49 in a row at home (entering Wednesday’s home date with the Knicks) and haven’t lost at Oracle Arena since Jan. 27, 2015.
The Chicago Bulls started the 1995-96 season 41-3, one game better than the Warriors were after the first 44 games of this season.
The biggest hurdle could be three remaining games against the San Antonio Spurs, two of which fall on the second night of back-to-backs. The first comes Saturday at San Antonio, where the Spurs have won 42 games in a row. The final game of the three is also at San Antonio on April 10, the night after Golden State plays at Memphis.
The chase for 73 wins is alive and kicking.
Here’s a look at the teams that posted the five best regular-season records in NBA history. Four of the five won the NBA championship:
72-10 Chicago Bulls, 1995-96: Jordan’s return to basketball from two years in baseball’s minor leagues took the NBA by storm. The Bulls bolted to a 41-3 start, one game better than the Warriors were after the first 44 games of this season. There were losses in the final quarter of the season that put winning 70 in serious doubt: A 104-72✔ loss at New York in Game 61 dropped the Bulls to 54-7✔; that Toronto loss in Game 68 that was reminiscent of the Warriors’ recent blowout defeat by the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 61 to fall to 60-8✔ with 14 to play. Chicago went 11-1✔ to get to 71-9 before a 100-99✔ loss at home to Indiana in Game 81 made a 72-win season the limit. The postseason was cakewalk, too. The Bulls went 15-2 and beat the Seattle SuperSonics 4-2✔ in the Finals.
69-13 Chicago Bulls, 1996-97: There simply was no match for the Bulls in either conference. How close were these Bulls to a 70th win, or even getting to 72 or 73? They lost three✔ of their final four games to Detroit, 108-91✔ in Game 79, to Miami 102-92✔ in Game 81, and to New York 103-101✔ in Game 82. They weren’t resting up for the playoffs either. Still, The Bulls regrouped quickly to go 15-4✔ in the postseason, defeating the Utah Jazz 4-2✔ in the Finals.
69-13 Los Angeles Lakers, 1971-72: The Wilt Chamberlain-Jerry West-Gail Goodrich-led Lakers won an NBA-record 33✔ consecutive games from Nov. 5Nov. 7, 1971 to Jan. 7, 1972, yet still fell short. After the streak ended, it was as if the burden of it took a toll. The Lakers went 2-4✔ over their next six games and were a mortal 15-8✔ over their next 23 games. Still, the opportunity for 70 was there, and if not for a hiccup on March 22 in Game 80 at the 23-56 Cleveland Cavaliers✔, the Lakers would have finished the regular season on an 11-game✔ winning streak and would have become the first NBA team to win 70 games. They had little problem in the postseason, winning 12 of 15✔ games and taking care of the New York Knicks 4-1✔ to win the championship.
68-13 Philadelphia 76ers, 1966-67: Wilt Chamberlain averaged 24.1✔ points and 24.2✔ rebounds during a time when the league featured only 10 teams, meaning Chamberlain was going up against Bill Russell what must have seemed like every other night. Chamberlain was accompanied by Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer and Chet Walker. During the middle of the season, Philly rolled off 22✔ wins in 23 games with only a loss to the Celtics✔ in the middle. That run was part of a 33-2 stretch that got the 76ers to 46-4✔. But from Jan. 24 to Feb. 12, they went just 6-67-5 to fall off the pace in what was then an 81-game✔ schedule. Still Wilt and company took care of Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati, the Celtics and finally the San Francisco Warriors to claim the championship.
68-14 Boston Celtics, 1972-73: This is the only team in NBA history to win at least 68 regular-season games and not go on to win the championship, losing in seven games in the East Finals to the New York Knicks. The Celtics, led by Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White, lost their chance at 70 with a 4-5✔ stretch from Jan. 27 to Feb. 9 to drop to 44-12✔. From there Boston would finish 24-2✔, losing only to the Knicks on Feb. 27✔ and to the Baltimore Bullets on March 16✔. After getting past the Atlanta Hawks 4-2, Boston’s winning ways faded in the championship to New York.✔