The Utah Jazz face the Golden State Warriors at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Tuesday night and are quite aware that it’s going to take a combination of near-perfect basketball and some mistakes by the defending NBA champs to have a chance to win.
Why? The Warriors are favored to win their second straight NBA title and third championship in four years. They might just be the most prohibitive title favorites the league has seen since 1996 — when the Chicago Bulls won 70 games and waltzed through the postseason on their way to a championship.
But there may be even more to it than that. These Warriors may be one for the books. This Golden State team might — might — be the greatest NBA team ever assembled.
“What they are doing is historic, without question,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “You know it now, but I’m sure we’ll look back and appreciate how good they really are. You look at the numbers. When you play against them, you feel it. They’re extremely unique, extremely well-coached and extremely talented.”
The NBA’s five greatest teams, and their regular season and playoff records. Each team went on to win the championship:
1995-96 Chicago Bulls • Regular season: 72-10. Playoffs: 15-3.
1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers • Regular season: 65-17. Playoffs: 15-3.
1985-86 Boston Celtics • Regular season: 67-15. Playoffs: 15-3.
1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers • Regular season: 69-13. Playoffs: 12-3.
1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers • Regular season: 68-13. Playoffs: 11-4.
From a talent perspective, the Warriors have an argument. In Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, Golden State has two of the top three players in basketball at the peak of their basketball powers.
Other great teams have been top-heavy in this manner. The 2012 Miami Heat boasted LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The 2001 Los Angeles Lakers had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The 1996 Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The “Showtime” Lakers had Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The 1972 Lakers had Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West.
But the Warriors, through deft roster-building and free agency, have depth beyond their two top players that arguably no other NBA team has ever had. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are consistent all-stars, both in their primes. And the Warriors have the NBA’s best and deepest bench. This is why they won 73 games two seasons ago — without Durant. They then added the lanky free agent forward and went through last year’s postseason losing just one game, in the finals, to Cleveland.
Is that enough to crown the Warriors as the best team of all time?
It’s debatable, so let’s debate. Here are five teams that measure up to Golden State and perhaps still surpass the Warriors. Perhaps.
1995-96 CHICAGO BULLS
Michael Jordan’s best team is Golden State’s closest competitor, and the one team many think would’ve had a good chance at beating the Warriors in a seven-game series. The matchups would have been thrilling. Jordan, the greatest player ever, would have been the best player in the series. Pippen is one of the few who would have a chance against Durant. Green and Dennis Rodman would have been a terrific matchup in both basketball talent and crazy.
These Bulls went 72-10 in the regular season, a mark Golden State beat 20 years later by going 73-9. Chicago was truly dominant this season, leading the NBA in offensive and defensive ratings. The Bulls had every ingredient. They were long and athletic. They were phenomenal defensively. They had depth and size on the interior.
Fun fact • Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a sharpshooting reserve on this team.
1985-86 BOSTON CELTICS
This is by far the best team of Larry Bird’s career. More important, this is the season Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were at the top of their games. Widely considered the best frontcourt in NBA history, those three were too much for the remainder of the NBA that season. And they were supplemented by the late Dennis Johnson and former BYU great Danny Ainge.
Through the 1980s, Bird’s Celtic teams were widely known for having perhaps the best starting five in the sport, while being short on bench depth. That was not the case in 1986. Bill Walton was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, in the last season of his career that he was an impact player.
More than Walton, Scott Wedman was one of the best shooters in the league, along with Jerry Sichting.
The 1986 Celtics went 40-1 on their home floor and 67-15 overall. Bird won his third consecutive MVP award, and the Celts ran through the Houston Rockets in six games to win it all. This was an amazing team by any measure.
Fun fact • Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was a young shooting guard on this Boston roster. And Greg Kite, a physical big man who spelled Parish, was a former BYU star.
1971-72 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
One of the few teams in history that can match this current Golden State team in terms of star power. Chamberlain and West became a great duo. Gail Goodrich was a great shooter and scorer. Jim McMillian averaged 19 points per game in the ’72 playoffs. The difference here is Golden State’s star foursome are all in their primes. Only Goodrich was in his prime during this run. Chamberlain and West were in their mid-30s and under pressure to win a championship before their inevitable retirements.
Under that pressure, this Lakers team put up a season for the ages. They won 33 consecutive regular season games, still an NBA record. They finished the regular season 69-13, a record that stood until the 1996 Bulls eclipsed it. They waxed the New York Knicks in five games in the finals.
And they could have been even better. Hall of Fame forward Elgin Baylor retired just nine games into the season because of chronic injuries.
The key: Lakers coach Bill Sharman did what many thought was impossible — coaxing Chamberlain to his scoring stats for team glory. Because of their age, this Lakers bunch couldn’t put together a dynasty. But, for one season, they were certainly one of the top five teams in NBA history.
Fun fact • Former Lakers, Knicks and Heat coach (and current Miami president and GM) Pat Riley was a defensive-minded reserve on this Lakers roster.
1986-87 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Putting this team up against the Warriors would produce some tremendous offensive fireworks. This is the first team that was truly Magic Johnson’s to run. Abdul-Jabbar was still an effective player, but he was no longer playing at an MVP level. Magic, after years of being the No. 2 option, averaged a career-high 23.9 points per game. He, Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy each played at an all-star level during the season. Michael Cooper was the best sixth man in basketball, and A.C. Green and Byron Scott were pitch-perfect in their supporting roles.
It was peak Showtime. The Lakers beat the Celtics in six games to the win the title, and the series was less competitive than the results — and the fiery Lakers-Celtics history — would indicate. L.A. went 65-17 overall.
Fun fact • Wes Matthews, the father of former Jazz and current Mavericks shooting guard Wesley Matthews, was a little-used reserve on this team.
1966-67 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
The 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, 2012 Miami Heat and any number of 1960s-era Boston Celtics teams have a claim for the fifth spot here.
But this Sixers team was flat-out special. Chamberlain’s first NBA title team started the season 46-4, which is still the best 50-game start in NBA history, a mark the Warriors tied in 2016. Philly finished the season 68-13 and went on to beat the San Francisco Warriors in six games to win the title.
For once, Chamberlain was surrounded by top-flight talent, which allowed him to finally win a championship and shed his image as a player who racked up big stats but couldn’t win titles. Hal Greer, Chet Walker and Billy Cunningham each played at an all-star level. Chamberlain averaged 7.8 assists per game, while leading the league in rebounds (24.2). And the Sixers averaged 125.2 points per game.
Fun fact • Billy Melchionni, a guard on the team, went on to stardom in the ABA with the Julius Erving-led New York Nets — who graced the old Salt Palace many nights against the Utah Stars.
WARRIORS AT JAZZ
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Tuesday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 21-28, Warriors 40-10
Last Meeting • Warriors 126, Jazz 101 (Dec. 28)
About the Warriors • Golden State is a league-best 21-4 on the road this season. … The Warriors average 116 points per game, and 30.6 assists per game, best in the NBA. … Golden State will have four all-stars in consecutive seasons. … Stephen Curry is coming off a 49-point performance in a win over the Boston Celtics. … Curry has made at least five 3-pointers in five consecutive games, one off the NBA record.
About the Jazz • Utah hopes to get Rodney Hood back from injury. He has missed four straight games. … The Jazz are on a winning streak for the first time since December. They’ve won three of their last four games. … Alec Burks has averaged 11.5 points in his last five games. … Utah will be facing the Warriors on its home floor for the only time this season. … The Jazz are in the middle of a stretch where they play seven of eight games on the road.