The Golden State Warriors are running out of games that they can conceivably lose. While it's fair to say that any team could ultimately steal a game -- the Lakers did, after all -- the Warriors' 114-98 victory over the Clippers on Wednesday removes one major hurdle from the team's quest to top the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' single-season win record.
The only things that may be able to stop Golden State from taking the record at this point are rest and the San Antonio Spurs. Head coach Steve Kerr has said preparing for the playoffs will "take precedence" over making a push to surpass 72 wins. The Spurs recently beat the Warriors and look like the yin to Golden State's historic yang. Still, other than two major looming matchups against San Antonio in early April, the remainder of the Warriors' games look highly winnable.
That means somebody is going to have to upset Golden State if it's going to fall short of 73-9. Based on the Warriors' effort against LA, that's not going to come easy, even with 70-plus games of fatigue opening the door for Kerr to sit key players before the team tries to defend its championship.
Stephen Curry and company rode their usual combination of staunch defense and efficient three-point shooting on Wednesday. The Clippers were held to 42 percent shooting from the field and made just eight three-pointers to Golden State's 15. Chris Paul shot just 4-of-16 and J.J. Redick wasn't much better at 4-of-13 overall.
The Warriors' backcourt was simply too much for Los Angeles' one-two punch, which is impressive considering Paul and Redick form one of the best guard combinations in the league. Curry (33 points on 12-of-23 shooting) and Klay Thompson (32, 12-of-21) are simply operating on another level at times. Anyone who thinks Curry doesn't do work on the defensive end should keep this handy:
This wasn't the flashiest win, but given Golden State's remaining schedule, the team won't even need to be at its best to challenge history. Good opponents like Boston, Utah, Portland and Memphis look fully beatable, and even for the San Antonio games, you can imagine Gregg Popovich is resting guys for the playoff run over trying to prevent a regular-season record. Unless the Warriors stumble and give the Spurs a shot at the No. 1 seed, there won't be a ton of incentive for the Spurs to go all out beyond spoiling history.
Golden State is in a great position, regardless of whether it breaks the Bulls' record. But based on the way the team is playing, it might be more shocking if the record isn't theirs come mid-April.
2 other things
Atlanta's defense is rounding into dominant form
It's getting harder to ignore the Hawks. Since a disappointing first half set the stage for a letdown narrative coming off last season's record-setting campaign, Atlanta has begun turning things around at just the right time. After the Hawks peaked too early last season with their amazing winning streak before faltering in the playoffs, this team seems to be finding its groove as the regular season winds down.
The Hawks crushed the Wizards, 122-101, on Wednesday for their ninth win in 11 games. A 41-point fourth quarter, powered by a big three-point shooting night, carried the team to victory. Now the Hawks and Celtics are tied for the No. 3 seed in the East with identical 42-30 records.
However, it's the defense that's going to make Atlanta a burden for any opponent come the postseason. It took the Hawks some time to retool the system following the departure of forward DeMarre Carroll as a free agent over the summer, but over the past few months, no team in the league has been performing better on that end. The Hawks have the best defensive rating in the league (97.1 points per 100 possessions) since Jan. 1, per NBA.com. This team might not have last season's win total, but the Hawks are going to be a handful in the playoffs.
Most of the playoff spots are more or less locked up at this point, but teams are still battling for those final postseason berths in each conference. The Jazz and Pistons earned key wins to move closer to earning those respective No. 8 seeds on Wednesday night.
The Rockets entered the night as the last playoff team out West, but lost 89-87 to the Jazz in a huge game. Utah rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to leapfrog Houston in the standings and significantly change its playoff fortunes. Instead of being 1.5 games back of the Rockets, the Jazz are now a half-game up with 11 games remaining in their season.
Detroit similarly asserted itself with a 118-102 win over the Magic to extend a four-game winning streak. Andre Drummond was dominant with 30 points and 14 rebounds to give the Pistons a one-game lead for the No. 8 seed in the East. Losses by the Bulls and Wizards also helped their cause, and it's starting to look like Stan Van Gundy's team might be the one to emerge with a first-round matchup against one of the conference's top teams.
Play of the night
This is just cruel to Philadelphia fans. You're leading by two with time winding down and a rookie who's shot 35 percent from the field this season fires up a wild, contested three from nearly 40 feet out right at the buzzer. If you're anyone else, that doesn't go in. Only the 76ers, man.
5 fun things
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