The “biggest” regular season NBA games are often the result of flux. Sometimes, it’s the reappearance of a superstar returning to the court after a long time away (e.g. M.J. returning from retirements in 1995 and 2000), or the pro debut of a long-awaited phenom (think LeBron’s first game for Cleveland in 2003) or the return of a superstar to his former team’s home court (Miami Heat Shaq going back to Los Angeles, or Heat LeBron going back to Cleveland).
Very rarely, though, does a regular season NBA generate hype because of continuity and stability. Those aren’t exactly the kind of words which drive ticket sales and storylines. In 2016, though, Golden State and San Antonio are forcing precedence takes a backseat to excellence. Both franchises feature star players who have been on the team for at least four seasons and have created distinct cultures based principles of teamwork, unselfishness, high basketball IQ and highly versatile skill sets. Both teams spread minutes and shot attempts to “non-star” bench players like few if any teams in NBA history.
As they head into their first matchup on January 25, 2016, never before have two teams this good met at midseason.
Below is a list of midseason* games involving teams with at least 75% win rate previous to the game:
|Year||Combined Win %||Home Team||Visitors||Home Team Wins||Home Team Losses||Visitors’ Wins||Visitors’ Losses||Home Team Win %||Visitors’ Win %||Home Team Score||Visitors’ Score||Home Team’s Final Wins #||Home Team’s Postseason Status||Visitors’ Final Wins #||Visitors’ Postseason Status|
|2016||88.6%||Golden State Warriors||San Antonio Spurs||40||4||38||6||90.9%||86.4%|
|1993||87.8%||Seattle Supersonics||Houston Rockets||20||3||23||3||87.0%||88.5%||112||97||63||Lost First Round||58||Won NBA Finals|
|1972||85.9%||Milwaukee Bucks||Los Angeles Lakers||35||8||38||4||81.4%||90.5%||120||104||63||Lost NBA Finals||69||World Champions|
|1966||85.3%||Philadephia 76ers||Boston Celtics||33||3||25||7||91.7%||78.1%||113||108||68||NBA Champions||60||Lost East Finals|
|1972||83.2%||Los Angeles Lakers||Milwaukee Bucks||44||7||45||11||86.3%||80.4%||118||105||69||World Champions||63||Lost NBA Finals|
|1967||80.7%||Boston Celtics||Philadephia 76ers||44||14||52||9||75.9%||85.2%||113||112||60||Lost East Finals||68||Won NBA Finals|
|2009||80.5%||Los Angeles Lakers||Cleveland Cavaliers||31||8||31||7||79.5%||81.6%||105||88||65||World Champions||66||Lost East Finals|
|1986||80.5%||Boston Celtics||Los Angeles Lakers||30||8||32||7||78.9%||82.1%||110||95||67||World Champions||62||Lost West Finals|
I expect the Warriors to win tonight. They are simply too good at home, Tim Duncan isn’t playing and Spurs Gregg Popovich famously undervalues regular season games. Even if the Spurs lose, though, it will be fascinating to see if they can maintain their current rate of success and continue to push Golden State toward a projected 74-win season. These teams will play another three times by early April.
Heading into those remaining three games, do you think they will maintain their current stratospheric all-time rankings — as seen below — on both sides of the ball?
The below metric, adjusted offensive rating, takes a team’s offensive production and measures it against the league average:
Same recipe as above, but on the defensive side: