What’s more important: an NBA title or the NBA’s single-season wins record? Let’s check in with Championship and Wins expert and coach of the 68-8 Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr, who had some thoughts on the matter following his team’s 109-106 loss to the Boston Celtics.
“I think it’d be cool (to break the record), but we all know what our focus is. We want to win a championship,” Kerr said. “The championship goes up on the wall and records are broken. People break records. Championships last forever.”
Kerr would love to have both the record and his seventh NBA ring, and it’s realistic, if not likely, that the Warriors can pull that off. FiveThirtyEight projects 73 wins, Basketball-Reference says 72.3, and they’re the title favorite in each metric. But with a banged up team that could benefit from a few days off, chasing the former might hurt their chances of the accomplishing latter.
Kerr has been de-emphasizing wins for months, so his comments shouldn’t come as a surprise. A six-time champion himself — three with the Chicago Bulls, two with the San Antonio Spurs, one with the Warriors — the second-year coach has been in this situation before, with the 1995-96 Bulls. The pressure takes a physical and psychological toll, and the scrutiny can lead to “slippage in execution.” Perhaps that’s what happened Friday against the Celtics, who handed the Warriors their first home loss since Jan. of 2015.
“It’s exactly the same,” Kerr said in comparing the Warriors to the Bulls. “Honestly, it was exactly the same. Constant media questioning about the streak.”
But whether Kerr will do anything to alleviate that pressure — putting his allocated minutes where his mouth is — isn’t yet clear. Stephen Curry has played 73 of Golden State’s 76 games and his playing time has remained steady at 34.6 minutes per game. Against the Celtics he played 37, and two nights before at Utah — on the second night of a back-to-back — he played 42 minutes of an overtime victory. Meanwhile Draymond Green has missed only one game and his minutes have climbed from 34.1 to 36 since the all-star break, and Klay Thompson (33.2 minutes) has sat just twice.
With the league’s best record all but mathematically clinched, the Warriors can rest their stars without having to worry about losing home-court advantage. But doing so, of course, would jeopardize their run at history. Their upcoming schedule includes Sunday’s game against a playoff team in the Portland Trailblazers, followed by a TNT game against Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and the up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves. Their last four games include two against the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies — both strong teams, even when their stars are out of the lineup.
Perhaps the Warriors can gut it out and fight through the last stretch of the season in pursuit of 73. Though maybe they’d be better off taking a page out of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s book, and giving it a rest. After all, you can’t break a title. But you can break a team before its title run.