NEW YORK: When the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls set the former record of 72 wins in one season they coined an accompanying phrase: “72-10 don’t mean a thing without the ring.”
The Golden State Warriors are inclined to agree, and as the NBA playoffs open tonight they know their historic 73-win regular season will lose its lustre unless they end the campaign with championship jewellery.
Golden State have been compared to those Michael Jordan-led Bulls all season long, with many former greats proclaiming the Warriors could not have stood the test of past eras.
Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, for one, stated that his former Chicago team would sweep the current Warriors team in a mythical series matchup.
Shrugging off such a hypothetical, Golden State, whose coach Steve Kerr played on the 72-win Bulls team, have a chance to put their stamp on the current generation and will begin their title defence against the Houston Rockets tonight.
“With Pippen coming out and saying what he said, that’s cool. We respect those guys (on that team),” Golden State forward Draymond Green told reporters. “We’ve got one of them in our locker room.”
The Eastern Conference’s Cleveland Cavaliers would love a return trip to the NBA Finals and a rematch with the Warriors but must first steady their bumpy ride.
Cleveland’s LeBron James has been at the centre of the team’s drama beginning when they fired coach David Blatt midway through the season despite leading the Eastern Conference.
The standout trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have yet to reach the potential imagined when they teamed up last season and James has romanticised about joining forces with opposing All-Stars, bringing into question the Cavs’ chemistry.
Despite that, Cleveland are the heavy favorite to win the East and James, looking to reach a sixth straight NBA Final, insists he is intently focused on leading these Cavs.
“It’s a mind switch. I’m going to the gym even more,” James said. “Dialing in even more to focusing on what I need to do for us to be better.”
The Toronto Raptors, powered by an All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, are the main threat to Cleveland while the third-seeded Miami Heat are an intriguing bunch who were bolstered by the acquisition of sharpshooter Joe Johnson in February.
The health of Miami All-Star Chris Bosh remains a critical mystery, however. He has been sidelined since February due to a recurring blood clot issue and his return remains in question.
Atlanta will attempt to build on last season’s run to the conference final, while the scrappy Boston Celtics will not be a pushover opponent.
In the West, the San Antonio Spurs remain the experienced model of consistency and are ready to chase a sixth championship banner with a reloaded roster.
Veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, David West and Kevin Martin will attempt to mesh their talents with coach Gregg Popovich’s proven game plan.
Oklahoma City are facing their first postseason with new coach Billy Donovan along with the pressures of prevailing in the final year before star Kevin Durant becomes a free agent.
Durant and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook are a battle-tested duo but the clock is ticking on a partnership that has not reached the Finals since 2012.
The Los Angeles Clippers are hoping the return of forward Blake Griffin can ignite their championship hopes.
Griffin missed 45 straight games due to injury and suspension and his return makes the Clippers a dangerous foe.
But the spotlight will be on the Warriors as they look to again walk in the footsteps of those old Bulls who inevitably closed the season with ‘the ring.’