Handling the Heat: The Warriors show why they’ll reach 73 wins

The Golden State Warriors were “outed” Wednesday night… and it didn’t matter.

I just finished watching the Warriors get out-worked, out-hustled, out-rebounded and generally out-played. Their opponent, the Miami Heat, was not a great team, but a very good one, featuring a vintage performance by future Hall-of-Famer Dwyane Wade.

The Warriors won by six.

Did I mention that this game was played on the road, as far from Oracle Arena as you can be and still be in an NBA arena? Did I mention that the Warriors were playing in front of a sellout crowd which, unlike many of the crowds the Warriors see on the road these days, was enthusiastically rooting for the home team?

The Miami Heat deserved to win Wednesday night. They did everything they needed to do to win… except they didn’t win.

They didn’t win because the Warriors have Steph Curry. They also have Klay Thompson. They also have big men who set screens for those two guys, and when you look up at the end of the game they’ve combined for 75 points. Klay scored 33 in 33 minutes, and Steph scored 42 in 35 minutes.

Less than a month ago, the Charlotte Hornets scored 73 points in a loss to the Utah Jazz.

Of course, there are games when either Curry or Thompson do not hit all of their shots. Somehow the Warriors win those games, too. Exhibit A: There are two teams in the West who are given any chance at all of beating the Warriors in the playoffs, and one of them is Oklahoma City. In their only meeting this season, Curry and Thompson combined to go 2-for-15 from 3-point range. The Warriors led by 14 at the half and the Thunder never got closer than five points. Curry and Thompson still managed to combine for 44 despite getting their points two at a time instead of three.

So the question is, how does this team lose five more games this season to fall short of 73 wins? I just don’t see it. I said this for the first time at the very end of this piece on December 15, after their 24-game win streak was broken. I started to harbor some doubts during a two-week stretch in January when they were winning ugly and losing occasionally, but since Steve Kerr came back to the bench and Curry stopped getting kicked in the legs, they’ve been almost unbeatable.

This is not to say that they can’t lose, of course. That would be silly, and just one week removed from a 30-point pasting at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers, blatantly false. They’ve lost five games this season. Only one of those games came down to the final minutes. Curry had the ball trailing by two against Denver, and lost the handle. It happens. The other four games were determined early. In fact, when the Warriors went to locker room at halftime trailing Miami by 4, it was only the 11th time this season that they trailed at the intermission. Having come back and won that game, their record is now 6-5 in those 11 games.

You can do the math, right? That means the Warriors have led at the half 45 times in 56 games this season, and they have won each of those games: 45-0 — not one slip-up. They’ve led at the end of the first quarter 42 times, and they’re 41-1 in those games. Oh, and if they at any point lead by 15 points? They’ve won 100 straight of those. 100. The NBA winning percentage last year for teams leading by 15 was roughly 90. That means they should have lost ten of those 100 games, but they’ve lost none.

So they can be beaten, but you’d better get off to a great start, win the first quarter and lead at the half to give yourself a chance.

Oh, wait, that’s what Miami did Wednesday night, but the Heat still took the “L.”

Here’s the challenge: Curry’s plus-minus is like a million or something. Okay, I’ll look it up. Just a second. Here we go. He’s plus 14.5 points per game, which, of course, leads the league. He usually plays all of the first and third quarters, and the second half of the second and fourth quarters. That’s why it’s so tough to win the first quarter against the Warriors. I can’t even think of how many double-digit first quarters he’s had this season.

So you’re behind after the first, and then you have about six minutes to try to get the lead back while he’s on the bench. That happens sometimes, but the Warriors’ second unit is pretty good. Let’s say you get it really close at halftime. All right, fine — then you have to deal with Steph for the whole third quarter.

You see how this works? It’s no wonder that he’s sat out 16 fourth quarters this season.

I have seen this team grind out wins against physical teams, and I’ve seen it outrun fast teams. I’ve seen the Warriors win without shooting a lot of 3s (rarely), and I’ve seen the Dubs rain 3s on opponents that break their spirit (this is especially true after an offensive rebound that leads to an open 3 on a chaotic floor).  I’ve seen them play the perfect endgame like they did against Miami (outscoring the Heat 24-14 from the time Curry re-entered with just under six minutes to play in the fourth), getting key stops, rebounds and, yes, 26-footers when they most needed them.

So I’m saying it here. They will not go undefeated the rest of the way, but they will break that record, and I think they’ll do it in game 80 in Memphis on April 9. The starting lineup the next night in San Antonio might be their entire D-League team.

I understand that requires them to go 26-2 over the next 28 games, but I think they can do it. 16 of those games are at home, where they were 39-2 last year and haven’t lost yet this year.

Think I’m wrong? Make a comment below, or ping me on Twitter at @jcannonsports. We’ll see how it turns out.

About John Cannon

John Cannon is a former radio and television sportscaster. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.