- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

When Byron Scott forgets he’s a coach of a rival team, just focuses on the game he loves, he can’t help but be impressed with the Golden State Warriors.

He’s hardly alone.

All around the NBA, Steph Curry & Co. are turning the teams they beat night after night into adoring fans.

Heck, with the Warriors off to a record 20-0 start, there’s actually a reason to pay attention to hoops before the season’s traditional Christmas Day tipoff.

“I love watching great basketball. I love watching team basketball,” said Scott, who doesn’t get to see that much as coach of the struggling Los Angeles Lakers. “And that team is the ultimate team.”

No doubt about that. Look no farther than Golden State’s 29.5 assists per game, a stat that Scott can really appreciate. He played on the 1984-85 Lakers, who hold the NBA assists record (31.4) and went on to capture the NBA championship with one of those juggernauts led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.

Scott says it might be time to start putting the Warriors in that same category, even though their body of work isn’t nearly as deep as, say, those Lakers squads of the 1980s, or the Larry Bird-led Celtics of the same era, or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, who won six championships over an eight-year period.

These Warriors have only one title so far.

Clearly, they want more.

Many, many more.

“These first 20 games, they are among the top two or three top teams that I’ve seen,” said Scott, who got a firsthand look at that greatness when the Lakers were blown out by 34 points a couple of weeks ago. “I mean, right now they’re on a different level than any other team in the NBA.”

And that’s a good thing, a really good thing.

The Warriors, more than any other team, and Curry, more than any other player, have exploited the NBA’s long-running crackdown on physical play. While some may miss Bill Laimbeer body-slamming anyone who dared venture into the lane, it’s much more fun to watch Golden State doing its Harlem Globetrotters impression - weaving all over the court in a magnificent tapestry, showing off a dazzling array of passes and dribbles, doing everything but splashing the refs with a bucket of confetti.

It’s a style of play everyone should aspire to, a display of the game at its elegant best.

“When you see a team doing it at that level,” Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday, “it sets a great example for teams across the league, including ourselves. It’s the way we want to play, and move the ball, and play smart basketball, and all those things. … There’s a little bit of fan, a little bit of, ‘Can we get better and improve ourselves?’ They’re good for the league.”

Now that they’ve set the mark for most wins at the start of the season, the Warriors’ next target is 33 - as in the longest winning streak in NBA history, set by the Lakers during the 1971-72 season. Longer term, Golden State seems poised to make a run at 72-10 - the greatest season in NBA history, a standard established by Jordan’s Bulls at the height of their dominance in 1995-96.

The Warriors weren’t too far off that mark a season ago, finishing 67-15. Now, having claimed the franchise’s first title in 40 years, the Bulls’ record could be in jeopardy.

“They play with a purpose, and they play with no agenda besides winning,” Scott said during a morning shootaround in Atlanta, before the Lakers took on the Hawks. “Even though Steph is getting a lot of the accolades, which he deserves, absolutely, all the other players on that team, all they want to do is win.”

The Warriors have been so dominant - winning by an average of more than 15 points a game, with only six victories as close as single digits - the debate seems to have shifted, from whether anyone can possibly deny them a second straight title to whether Curry is truly the greatest player on the planet.

As slender as a stick and severely limited acrobatically, Curry is hardly the prototype for a player you’d build a franchise around. That’s still someone such as LeBron James, who can play all five positions and dominate at both ends of the court.

But one gets the feeling that Curry couldn’t care less if King James is still numero uno on the singles chart. By the time summer rolls around, Steph and his boys will likely be celebrating another championship, having pushed the Warriors another step closer to securing their legacy as one of the greatest TEAMS in NBA history.

Everyone else gets to enjoy the ride.

Even those they take down along the way.

“They’ve taken chemistry to a whole new level,” said Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore, who started his career with the Warriors and now admires them from afar. “They’ve really shown the game of basketball is a feel-good game.”

___

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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