Would Pippen shut down Stephen Curry, as Pippen said? Is a Chicago or Golden State sweep more likely? And with five games left, are the Warriors going to break the Bulls' record?
1. Fact or Fiction: Scottie Pippen would shut down Steph Curry.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: Given the way teams are defending Curry lately, I don't think 1996 Pippen would have the assignment. I'd imagine 1996 Phil Jackson would start 1996 Ron Harper on Curry, with Pippen defending Draymond Green to allow the Bulls to switch Curry-Green pick-and-rolls.
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider: Fiction. Pippen would certainly be a load for Curry, but so would Ron Harper, Michael Jordan and even Randy Brown. Given the Bulls' array of defensive options, the Bulls would likely hold Curry below his normal standard. But fewer than 20 points per game? Doubtful. Anyway, it would not be a "shut down" even if it happened because Pippen would need lots of help.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Of course! Put size and length on Curry! Why didn't anyone think of that! Hey, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and Jimmy Butler and Trevor Ariza and Andre Roberson and Tony Allen and every other wing defender with a size and length advantage: Scottie finally cracked the code! All you have to do is . . . What was that? We tried that already?
Jeremias Engelmann, ESPN Insider: Fiction, and I say this as someone who started watching NBA basketball in the mid-90s and thought Pippen was the best defender to ever live. Would he bother him? Absolutely. Shut him down? No. Evil tongues might point out that Pippen is ranked 135th in 1996-1999 defensive RAPM (regularized adjusted plus-minus). Maybe he should just let Ron Harper, who ranked 20th, do the job.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: I call this science fiction, in that we have to project those Bulls would be able to acclimate to the new way the game is played. While it's possible that Pippen would "shut down" Curry (though Gary Payton, a fine player but no Steph Curry on offense, averaged 18 ppg in Seattle's series against the 72-win Bulls team), it's also possible the Bulls would fall well short of being able to compete right away.
2. Fact or Fiction: Charles Barkley was right when he said the Warriors are "very small."
Elhassan: So was Charles Barkley, and we're not denying his greatness. Furthermore, what Golden State lacks in height it makes up in length along its front line -- plus the Warriors are capable of fielding "big" small lineups featuring multiple 6-foot-7 and taller players. In any case, the Warriors play lineups that excel at defending bigger lineups than them, which basically negates any criticism about their size.
Doolittle: Irrelevant fact. For Charles Barkley to say that is like saying Bill Gates is a terrible boxer. It just doesn't matter. The only question is whether you defend with your primary lineups, whether they are big, medium or small. The Warriors' "small" lineups have more than proven their defensive acumen.
Pelton: Fiction. Despite the 6-foot-7 Green playing regular minutes at center, Golden State's average height weighted by minutes played is nearly league average. (It's close to 6-foot-7.) Remember, the Warriors have one of the league's biggest backcourts, particularly when 6-foot-7 Shaun Livingston plays the point next to 6-foot-6 Klay Thompson.
Thorpe: Fiction. The Warriors have combinations of tall players playing multiple positions. If we just looked at standing reach instead of height, we'd never even discuss this. For instance, Draymond Green has a standing reach that far exceeds his height. Who cares anyway? It's a long time since the tallest team was the best team.
Engelmann: The Warriors can play big or small, but choose to go small because it works against today's league, with the "death lineup" -- the one that has Draymond Green at center -- blowing everyone out when they need a burst. Besides, many of their players, including Green and Andre Iguodala, have large wingspans for their height.
3. Your thoughts on how former players talk about the Warriors?
Doolittle: It's just silly. Sure, the game used to be more physical. Sure, the post game used to be everything. News flash: The game is literally not played by the same rules. All you can do is compare what Curry and the Warriors have done with their opportunity in the NBA continuum against what all other teams and players did with theirs. I'd say they hold up pretty well.
Pelton: It's typical of how former players took about contemporaries in every generation. If you go by what former players say, the NBA has been getting worse since before it even existed. There does seem to be a bit more skepticism about the Warriors than usual because their style of play runs counter to past conventional wisdom.
Engelmann: I fully agree with Steph Curry here. I find it very annoying. It also has the "old man yells at cloud" vibe to it. I actually find it most insulting to the other 29 teams in today's NBA: They're being told that it'd actually be easy to stop these Warriors, and that they're doing something extremely wrong by getting blown out all the time.
Thorpe: Most aging people remember their time as far better than it actually was. So the desire to focus on the past rather than the present is not unique to NBA players. And as Kent said in Shakespeare's King Lear: "Sir, I am too old to learn."
Elhassan: I can only imagine what it must feel like to be told to move over in the history books as there's a new entrant coming in above you. Perhaps they fear being forgotten?
4. More likely: The Bulls would sweep the Warriors or the Warriors would sweep the Bulls?
Elhassan: Neither of these scenarios is likely at all. From 1990-91 to 1997-98, during which the Bulls won six titles, they swept a 7-game series just three times, and only once during their second three-peat. Suffice it to say, if Chicago couldn't sweep the '97 Hawks, with its vaunted lineup featuring Mookie Blaylock and Eldridge Recasner, I struggle to see how Scottie can feel confident about sweeping the Warriors.
Thorpe: I can't imagine a sweep either way. If the Bulls had time to adjust to today's style of play, the Bulls would figure out a way to bottle up Curry, most likely for a game or three and not the full series. The Warriors would cook up some special defenses for Michael Jordan, whose teammates would have to make shots. In this time-travel movie, knowing Jordan's mental toughness, I would pick the Bulls in triple-OT in Game 7. If the Warriors win a couple more titles, we'll know Curry has the same stuff.
Doolittle: The Bulls would be the more likely to sweep, though I don't think either team would. Not only would Chicago have multiple premier defensive options for Curry, they'd have the same for Klay Thompson, and Dennis Rodman to harass Draymond Green. But the clincher for me would be late career MJ dominating from the post on offense. I'd say Bulls in six.
Pelton: The answer probably depends on the rules we play by. (Would it be 1995-96 or 2015-16? Or both depending on home court?) I like Golden State's chances of adapting somewhat better because the 22-foot 3-point line in use in 1995-96 might as well be a layup for Curry and Thompson.
Engelmann: That's a tough one. The Bulls have the greater margin of victory -- a good indicator for future performance -- but they were also driven by an insanely competitive Michael Jordan, and their bench was probably better. I'd probably have to pick the Bulls, but I think a sweep either way is highly unlikely.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Warriors will break the Bulls' record for wins in a season.
Engelmann: Fact. The Warriors have two games remaining against a very depleted Memphis team, and a home game against the 25-52 Wolves. The other two games are against the Spurs, who are locked into the 2 seed. The probability of Pop playing his best lineups in both games is near zero, so my money is on the W's winning at least four of five to get to 73 or 74 wins.
Thorpe: I called "fact" when this question came up in early December. While I don't think they should have chased the record, they wanted it, and it looks like they'll get it. The two Spurs games might be comical (who will Pop play?), and Memphis is barely hanging on after too many injuries to even resemble the Grizzlies that challenged Golden State a year ago.
Elhassan: Fact. I called it on SportsCenter about a month ago, and 74 was my prediction. They'd need to win out for that to happen, but I think the toughest part of their schedule is behind them.
Pelton: Fact. Despite Friday's unexpected home setback against the Celtics, Golden State is still more likely than not to reach 73 wins even before we account for the possibility of the San Antonio Spurs sitting players in one or both of their remaining matchups.
Doolittle: Fiction. I still think they'll lose at San Antonio, so they'd have to win the other four. That's not at all far-fetched, but I feel like a matching 72-10 finish has a certain karmic resonance. Then we can have this debate every spring for time immemorial.