After comfortably dispatching the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night to become the third NBA team ever to open a season with 15 consecutive wins, the Golden State Warriors will take aim at securing a solo spot in NBA history on Tuesday, when they return to the friendly confines of Oracle Arena. Just one thing stands between Stephen Curry's crew and a slice of basketball immortality: the Los Angeles Lakers, who will enter the Bay at 2-11, with the NBA's third-worst offense and defense, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
A pair of online oddsmakers have installed the Warriors as early 17-point favorites heading into Tuesday night. Considering we're talking about a Lakers club that has lost three straight by double-digits and has already logged two defeats by more than 17, and a Warriors team with a couple of 20-plus-point victories under its belt, that might be a conservative figure. And yet, you play the games on your schedule, so enter Oracle L.A. must ... and Kobe Bryant, for his part, struck an appropriately optimistic note on Sunday night, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:
"I've seen stranger things happen," Bryant said Sunday after his team's 107-93 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center here. "We've been playing like s---. We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there. You never know."
Stranger things like, I don't know, maybe, for example, this, also from Holmes:
One element Bryant particularly preached Friday was ball movement, which he felt was lacking against the Raptors.
"When I've become the voice of 'ball-movement reason,' you know you have an issue," Bryant said. "I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be the one preaching that stuff. That's crazy.
He added, "I can't believe I'm saying this s---. Are you kidding me? Like a kid that grows up and just starts sounding like his parents."
Bryant offered his thoughts on the importance of the Lakers sharing the ball after going 5-for-13 from the floor in 37 minutes of floor time in an 11-point loss to the Toronto Raptors. He followed his remarks by shooting 6-for-22 from the floor in 31 minutes of floor time in a 14-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He has missed his last 10 3-point attempts, he's missing more than two-thirds of his field-goal tries this season, and his True Shooting percentage — a measurement that takes into account 2-point, 3-point and free-throw accuracy — is literally historically awful:
There's been 774 individual seasons in which a player averaged 16 FGA. Kobe Bryant's 2015-16 TS% ranks 774th. Curry's '15-16 TS% ranks 1st.
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) November 23, 2015
So, yes: sometimes even things that seem unbelievable can become reality. Why not this?
Well, for quite a few reasons, really, most of which you already know. The Lakers give up boatloads of open 3-point looks and nobody shoots the long ball more accurately than the Dubs. The Warriors average more points per possession on plays finished by pick-and-roll ball-handlers than any other NBA team, and the Lakers struggle mightily in pick-and-roll coverage, ranking among the 10 most permissive clubs in the league in the screen game. The Lakers just got roasted by Damian Lillard's punishing penetration and passing; as good as Lillard is, Stephen Curry's on a whole 'nother level right now. The list goes on.
None of this is news, of course. It's very clear just how vast a difference there is between Golden State and the rest of the pack right now, and Lakers head coach Byron Scott said as much this weekend, according to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:
Unlike Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers, who has been restrained in his praise of the rival Warriors, Scott heaped it on the defending champs.
“By far, right now, they’re the best team in the league,” he said.
He said Stephen Curry has taken his game to another level and marveled at Draymond Green’s defense.
“To me,” Scott said, “it looks like they’re better now than they were last year. They don’t have that championship hangover. I think they want more. It’s scary, because they’re not living on last year.”
He added: “I just think they got so much more confident and it’s not just one or two guys, it seems like their whole team is that much hungrier.”
That could be, in part, because even after ripping off an all-time great season last year, the Warriors still seem to be suffering slings and arrows aimed at the perception that they really were "that good." It could be because, as good as the Warriors were last season and as well as they've played to start this one, they feel like they've yet to hit their peak.
"It's kind of a quiet confidence that we don't feel like we're going to lose anytime soon,'' Curry said after logging 19 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in 27 1/2 minutes of work on Sunday, according to Pat Graham of The Associated Press. "The way we're playing ... we can get even better."
That pursuit of superior performance — of cutting down their turnovers, of doing a better job clearing the defensive glass, of getting to the foul line more often, of getting every single player in blue and gold, right down to Ian Clark and James Michael McAdoo, involved in the fun — has fueled the Warriors as much as, if not more than, the pursuit of a historic win streak that has come about as a result. From Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com:
“Maybe two games ago it became a conversation in the locker room,” Curry said. “Since we’re here, we might as well get it done. Since we have 15, we might as well get 16, that’s the next step and we are excited about that challenge Tuesday.”
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That approach to excellence — committed to the competitive business of victory, but also relaxed enough to continue viewing it as a byproduct of a positive collaborative process rather than the end-all be-all result of the imposition of a singular will — seemed to resonate with Scott, who experienced something similar during his days with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s.
"Basically I look at them as a fan, when I watch them play," Scott said Sunday, according to Holmes. "Unfortunately I don't have that luxury Tuesday. I love watching them play because they do all the things we talk about. They share the ball. They play for one another. They play as a team."
Beating them will require a total team effort, career-best games from several members of the Lakers' young nucleus, and perhaps some turn-back-the-clock work from rim protector Roy Hibbert and, yes, the aging-but-still-firing Black Mamba. An awful lot would have to go right, but it's possible; the 1948-49 Washington Capitols, the first club to open up 15-0, lost their first game to the previously 3-13 Indianapolis Jets, after all. Stranger things have happened. There just haven't been many.
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