At an obscene 52-5 (.912) through Friday, the Warriors are blowing apart history with the vigor of gale force winds. So where do the Dubs rank? There’s still playoff basketball left (a different beast), and no one should simply be handing them the crown yet. But Golden State is on it way to besting the ’96 Bulls 72-10 record and with back-to-back titles you’d be hard-pressed not to name these Dubs as the greatest team ever. The Warriors boast an all-time player at the height of his powers (Steph Curry), gunning for his second straight MVP (and making the impossible look routine). They are the best offensive team in the league at 115.3 ppg, which is 6 points better than anyone else. Golden State started 24-0 this year (without their coach), has hit the most three-pointers while also having the highest percentage from downtown. They own the second-best point differential in the NBA. And what Curry is doing nightly strains reality. He’s become NBA Jam “on-fire” in human form. In other words, there’s nothing they’re lacking.
The Warriors road to another title is steep as well. The Spurs are nearly on the same level of excellence, holding the third-best regular season percentage of all-time right now (yes, we’re currently watching two of the top three regular season teams in history). We are ignoring just how sensational the Thunder’s season has been because of the shadow cast by the Warriors. The Cavs have also lived up to their end of the bargain in the East. Should Golden State run through Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Cleveland en route to another title, the gauntlet would be as tough as any in recent memory.
So which teams are the Warriors looking to surpass in the annals of greatest teams ever? The ’72 Lakers (who at one point won a ridiculous 33 straight) are certainly in the mix, as are a few of those historic Celtics teams of the ’60s that won eight in a row. But let’s focus on the last thirty years as a point of demarcation.
A few rules: We’ve tabbed the top 5, so with limited slots and franchises like the Lakers (7), Bulls (6), and Spurs (5) gobbling up 18 of those last 30 trophies, only one unit from each of those organizations can be named (to spread the wealth). We accounted for regular season wins, postseason record, peak of the team’s powers, and difficulty of the road.
Oh and one more thing. You had to have won the whole enchilada. No ring, no list. Here we go…
5) ’88-’89 Pistons: If you’re a Warriors fan you have reason to gripe here. Last year’s Golden State team won four more games in the regular season, and lost just three times in the Western playoffs. Curry was the league MVP, and when they stepped on the gas in the Finals the Cavs couldn’t catch their breath. But this year’s dominance tends to color how we view last year’s Dubs. This Pistons squad was on a manically-driven pursuit of a title they felt was robbed the year before by the Lakers. Isiah Thomas was at his absolute peak, blood-thirsty and relentless. The Bad Boys marched through the East losing only two games before the Finals (both to the nemesis Bulls). Against the aging Lakers, Detroit wiped the floor in a sweep for its first of back-to-back titles. Zeke, Dumars, Rodman, Laimbeer, Aguirre and the Microwave were a machine. Sandwiched between the Celtics/Lakers ’80s and the Bulls ’90s, the Pistons rarely get their due. But their resiliency and toughness make them one of the most unique, hated, and incredible units of all-time.
4) ’13-’14: Spurs: While there are cases to be made for the ’03 and ’05 teams (Duncan, Manu and Parker were all in their prime), this is the best of the Riverwalk Dynasty. San Antonio won more regular season games (62) than all but one of the Popovich teams. After being beaten in the ’13 Finals by Miami, the Spurs had a devastating single-mindedness all season. It also marked the official arrival of Kawhi Leonard as a super star. It wasn’t an easy road, but that made this run even more impressive. Dallas took them 7 in the first round, OKC went 6 in the West Finals. Their finest moment was in the Finals against the Super Heat. Miami had won back-to-back championships, but the Spurs dominated. Perhaps the Heat was running on fumes after four straight trips to the Finals. But the Spurs coasted in 5, with an average margin of victory of 18 points. The “one for the thumb” was their best team.
3) ’86-87: Lakers: This was a difficult call over the ’00 or ’01 teams with Shaq and Kobe that three-peated. The ’00 squad won 67 games in the regular season, while the next year the Lakers didn’t lose a postseason game until the Finals vs. Philly. But head-to-head it’s hard to fathom the best edition of the Showtime Lakers losing to their modern brethren. Riley’s Lake Show had superior chemistry, depth and unselfishness. Shaq may physically dominated Kareem in the post, but I’ll take Magic, Worthy, Byron Scott, AC Green, Mychal Thompson and Michael Cooper over Kobe and co. The ’87 Lakers won 65 games, and had to outlast the Celtics in a Finals bloodbath, considered one of the best championship series ever. Shaq’s Lakers only had to walk through the Pacers and Sixers to win their titles. This was the fourth of Showtime’s five rings in the decade, and was the pinnacle of their up-tempo, nightly fireworks extravaganza. Magic had perfected his role as conductor of the league’s fastest train, and the killer instinct was ratcheted up after watching the Celtics cruise to a title the year before. Which brings us to…
2) ’85-’86 Celtics: Their home record defined this team’s historic greatness: 40-1. Boston went 67-15 in the regular season, tied for the sixth best record ever. Bird was at his absolute apex, winning the NBA MVP, the AP’s Athlete of the Year, and the Finals MVP. Parrish and McHale were in their primes (and not yet broken down). Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge were a terrific complimentary backcourt. And the addition of impeccable passer Bill Walton helped make this squad a machine. The only blemish on these Celtics is an easier road than any other team on this list. Boston swept a too-young Bulls team and a not good-enough Bucks team in the East Finals. The Celtics only loss in the first three series was to Nique’s Hawks in the second round. Then in the Finals, the C’s didn’t have to go through the Lakers, instead blasting a young Rockets squad in 6. But that can’t diminish the Celtics star too much. This is still the second-best team of the last three decades.
1) ’95-’96 Bulls: This is the greatest regular season squad of all time (for now), that found a renewed sense of purpose with a full year of Michael Jordan after his sabbatical. He had come back midseason sporting #45 in ’95 and been toppled by the Magic. A motivated Jordan was the most dangerous Jordan, and Michael pushed and prodded the ’95-’96 the Bulls to be the greatest of all-time. MJ was out for blood, and he had his fuel as the Rockets had supplanted Chicago as the back-to-back champs. Jordan, Scotty, Kukoc, Rodman were all in their primes. Phil Jackson knew exactly when to reign it in, press buttons, or let it fly. Chicago won the Central Division by a ludicrous 20 games. The Bulls lost just once in the Eastern Conference playoffs, beating the rival Knicks in 5 and sweeping Orlando as revenge in the East Finals. In the NBA Finals, Chicago took out Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton’s 64-win Sonics team in six, a Seattle squad that looked like a budding champion for years to come. This was the NBA’s greatest player’s greatest team. To the Warriors: You have your mission. Top that.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.