- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Steve Kerr remembers it vividly. Television helicopters flew above the Chicago Bulls‘ bus. Fans stood on overpasses with their flapping signs. The 69-win Bulls left Chicago in April 1996 tied with the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers for the most wins in a single season. They had four shots at breaking the record, the first against the Milwaukee Bucks, and the signs prompted a simple thought in Kerr’s head.

“I hope we win,” Kerr said.

They did, 86-80. Artistry was limited — the Bulls shot 38.8 percent — but the win total was pushed over just the same. Chicago finished with a league-record 72 wins.

“It was a good night,” Kerr said.

Kerr is now in charge of a team with a blatant chance to match or break that record. The Golden State Warriors arrived in Washington on Wednesday at 44-4, tied with the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers for the best record in NBA history after 48 games. Four vital elements for a chance to break the record are on their side: Kerr, last year’s experience, depth and the remaining schedule.

First, what’s in front of them. Entering Wednesday night against the off-kilter Washington Wizards, Golden State had 34 games remaining. Of those, half will be against teams with a sub-.500 record. Give the Warriors those, and they instantly pop to 61 wins. Of the 17 others against teams with winning records, nine are at home. The Warriors have won 40 consecutive home games. They have not lost at Oracle Arena in more than a year. If they close undefeated at home, that’s 70 wins. That means they would need to go just 3-5 on the road against teams with a winning record to surpass the Bulls‘ 72 wins.

Their start is better than that of the team of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The Bulls moved into the record book at 46-5, tying the 76ers in 1967 for the best record after 51 games. They became the only team in NBA history to be 48-5. No team has reached 50 wins with fewer than six losses.

Kerr can bring his laid-back perspective to all this. Warriors point guard Stephen Curry has admitted that Kerr talks about breaking the record behind closed doors, though there’s not much public discussion about it from the talkative Kerr. He pointed out Wednesday morning that it’s the media that brings it up, not the team.

Yet, going through the rock star days with Jordan, and winning a fifth ring with the San Antonio Spurs, provides Kerr the perfect perspective for such lunatic math. He has played on two of the teams that finished with top three records in league history. Last season, he coached the Warriors to the 10th-best winning percentage in NBA history and a league championship.

Thursday, the team will meet with President Obama before heading back to California. Kerr has met multiple presidents, he said, but Bill Clinton was in office for each of the five titles he won.

“I told President Clinton the third time, ‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this,’” Kerr said with a laugh. “He had no idea what I was talking about. ‘Nevermind. Bad joke.’”

Ticket prices for Wednesday night’s game surged. According to SeatGeek, tickets for the game averaged $197 on the secondary market, making them the most expensive since the company began tracking the reselling of tickets in 2010. Last season, seats to the game between the Warriors and Wizards averaged $91.

The team doesn’t have helicopters following its buses yet, and magical Curry has not reached the marketing level of Jordan, but demand is significant and noted.

“There are a lot of similarities, I think,” Kerr said.

Fans packed the near-dormant Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia last Saturday. Verizon Center, the site of the Bulls‘ 72nd victory, is often flooded with fans of the opponent and was again charged by people rooting for the out-of-town team. Wizards point guard John Wall commented after shootaround Wednesday morning that he had not seen such a media presence this year. This is how it is now for the Warriors.

Kerr’s not sure if they were prepared for the squeeze of mass popularity during last year’s NBA Finals, suggesting it took them a couple games to calm down when dealing with the glare. After winning the title — a victory Kerr feels also allowed the Warriors to relax because there will be no caveats in front of their name — the daily routine of ultra-fame is more manageable. A benefit, even.

“I think every game is a big game and it makes us better,” Kerr said. “Gets us prepared, gets us ready and puts us on edge.”

The roster is a perfect match for the modern NBA. Golden State can play small and shoot well, which it is famous for, or throw heft into the game with Andrew Bogut at center and Draymond Green at power forward. The properly conducted versatility has allowed the Warriors rest in a league where that is so fleeting. Kerr supposed that Golden State didn’t have a player in the top 15 in the league in minutes played. Thinking he may be wrong, he shrunk the list to top 13, intimating their minutes leader may be around 15th in the league. He was off. Green leads them in minutes played, and he is tied for 29th in the league. Curry is tied for 32nd. Klay Thompson is 42nd.

To top it off, a nine-day break for all-star weekend is a week away. This is also the first season the NBA schedule makers invoked specific changes to reduce the number of back-to-back games and stretches of four games in five nights.

On Wednesday, a member of the Warriors‘ staff had asked those in the hall outside of the locker room to clear a hole for the reigning MVP to jog through on the way to his much-anticipated warmup. Curry ran out of the visitors’ locker room down the hall, then hung a right. The staff member turned to run behind him.

On the floor, the lights and early crowd waited for his arrival. The Warriors have become the face of the league and are 10 weeks away from what no other team has done. The chance may never be better.

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