Steve Kerr knows the Golden State Warriors will have tougher days ahead this season, that there are higher hurdles to clear and bigger goals to reach.
That doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy the present.
“We’re 34-6. How can you not love that?” a smiling Kerr said after Thursday’s practice.
The Warriors are off to the best start in franchise history, have the NBA’s best record and are winning at such a blistering pace that Kerr and his staff already have secured their spots to coach the talented Western Conference in next month’s All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The NBA also announced Thursday night that Stephen Curry (1,513,324) edged LeBron James (1,470,483) for the most All-Star votes. He becomes the first player for Golden State elected to consecutive starts since Hall of Famer Chris Mullin in 1991-92.
Indeed, the Warriors have little to complain about as they hit the official midpoint of their season when they host Sacramento on Friday night.
The messy divorce that was Mark Jackson’s firing last May is well in the past. Players are as healthy as they could hope – minus a sprained left ankle that has sidelined backup centre Festus Ezeli for a month – and they are dominating like no other team.
The Warriors lead the league in shooting (48.7 per cent), opponents’ shooting (42.1 per cent), points per game (110.7), assists per game (27.1), three-point shooting (39 per cent) and point differential (plus-11.8).
That’s the largest margin of victory since Kerr’s days playing with Michael Jordan on the 1995/96 Chicago Bulls, who outscored the opposition by 12.2 points. Yes, the same Bulls team that won an NBA-record 72 games, claimed their fifth title and carved out a place in league lore as one of the greatest teams ever.
The Warriors, who are on pace for 70 wins, have a long way to go before being compared to that club or any of the other ones that lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Kerr sees little comparison to those Jordan juggernauts – though he has increasingly faced questions about the similarities – other than the way his current team competes hard at both ends.
What Kerr is trying to impart on his players from his experience on that team is to strive for perfection each game, stay focused for 48 minutes and don’t worry about their standing or their opponents’ record. That’s the difference between the teams people remember, he said, and the ones they don’t.
“It’s the same challenge for everybody: 82 games. You get worn down. You get tired mentally and physically. So it’s important for any team to fight through that,” Kerr said. “It’s easier, I think, when you’re winning. It’s fun. Every day is fun. The focus and the concentration should be something we get better with as the season goes because we’re building more and more momentum all the time.”
Keeping players fresh will be the other challenge.
Kerr has talked about resting players more often in the second half of the season, as he did last week when he gave centre Andrew Bogut and forward Andre Iguodala the night off at Oklahoma City – the Warriors’ only loss in their last 12 games. He also expects to lighten the practice load, especially with a lot of road games in February and March.
The Warriors will benefit from a deeper bench – anchored by former All-Stars David Lee and Iguodala – than during any of their past two play-off runs, when injuries and heavy minutes wore them down. They’ll also lean on the improved play from Curry – a rising MVP candidate – and backcourt teammate Klay Thompson, who could make his first All-Star team as a reserve.
“We just want to keep that momentum going throughout the course of the season,” Curry said. “And that will put us in pretty good position when it comes time to compare ourselves to the rest of the league and the rest of the Western Conference.”
These current Warriors have something else to strive for in the season’s second half, too.
No player or team in franchise history has experienced this pace of winning this deep into the season. Not Rick Barry. Not Wilt Chamberlain. Not “Run TMC” or “We Believe”.
This already is the latest in the year that the Warriors have had the best record in the league since going a franchise-best 59-23 in the 1975/76 season – a year after winning their only NBA title since moving west.
And while a championship remains the goal, players admit setting a few marks along the way would be pretty sweet.
“We still got to get there, but if we do break it, it will definitely mean something,” Thompson said. “There’s been some dark times with the Warriors before this little resurrection. So it’s gonna feel great.”
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