-- Even after adding Kevin Durant to their 73-win roster, the Golden State Warriors were widely projected to not quite replicate their record-breaking season from 2015-16. ESPN's Summer Forecast panel estimated 67 wins for the Warriors, and the initial Vegas betting line was 66.5.
But more than halfway through the 2016-17 season with just seven losses, are the Warriors actually going to hit the 70-win mark again? And will they secure the most dominant three-year regular-season stretch in NBA history, passing Michael Jordan's 1995-98 Chicago Bulls?
Let's take a look using ESPN's Basketball Power index (BPI).
Projecting this season
It's difficult to use hyperbole when describing what the Warriors are doing. Golden State is in the middle of a three-year stretch of dominance that's arguably better than MJ's Bulls' second three-peat. Yes, the Warriors ruined a chance at their own three-peat by losing in the Finals last year, but they lost in the last game in the last minute.
That Bulls team won a combined 203 regular season games from 1995-96 to 1997-98. This Warriors team has already won 179 regular season games and is projected to win 209 by the end of their three-season stretch. In fact, they only need to go 25-11 the rest of the way to top the Bulls, a winning percentage (69.4) way below their current mark (84.8).
The Warriors are projected to end the season with a 69-13 record, according to BPI. BPI also gives Golden State a 34.2 percent chance at winning at least 70 games and a 7.9 percent chance at getting 72 or more wins.
Not only are the Warriors a lock to make the playoffs -- their 39 wins alone might be enough to make it in -- but they are also a near lock to earn the No. 1 seed in the West, sporting an 93.1 percent chance, according to BPI (I say "near" because the Spurs are Spursing, as usual.)
The odds of the Warriors reaching the Western Conference finals are greater than the odds of every other team reaching the conference semifinals in the East or West -- excluding the Spurs. Read that sentence again. The Warriors have a 69.1 percent chance of winning it all, more than three times greater odds than any other team. Golden State's odds are so high due to dominance on both ends of the floor, with BPI's No. 1 defense and No. 1 offense (ahead of the No. 2 Rockets by 1.6 points).
The Warriors are favored in all of their remaining games except for two on the road in San Antonio. On average, BPI gives Golden State an 82.0 percent chance of winning each of their remaining games. To put that into perspective, that evens out to an expected average margin of victory of 10 points.
Looking at their schedule, though, I wouldn't be surprised if some planned rest was in order. After their game against the Rockets on March 31, the Warriors end the season on a six-game stretch where five of the games are at home. They average a 90.1 percent chance of winning each contest. It seems unlikely all four of Golden State's All-Stars will appear in each of those games.
The Spurs are only three games back in the standings, but unless they think they have a real shot at stealing the No. 1 seed -- or the Rockets catch up from their 6-game deficit -- I would expect San Antonio to implement some planned rest into the end of its season as well. The Spurs play three of their last seven games against the LA Clippers and Utah Jazz, two teams battling for the No. 4 seed, which means San Antonio might just waive the white flag (though you can't put it past the Spurs to still steal wins while resting starters).
So, there are a number of forces working against BPI's projections here. Even if the Warriors approach 70, there most likely won't be the same urgency to keep pushing as there was last year. However, in a fun twist, Golden State does end the season with a game against the Lakers, who might just need to lose that game to help the odds of keeping their draft pick.
Most dominant stretch ever?
To match the regular-season dominance of the 1995-1998 Bulls, the Warriors need to win 24 more games. BPI gives Golden State a 99.5 percent chance of doing so. And unlike those Bulls, the Warriors' margin of victory has slowly increased each year.
Of course, without the possibility of a three-peat, the Warriors won't be able to claim unmatched three-year dominance. But when it comes to the regular season? Yeah, they're well on their way to that title.
The scary thing here is that all signs point to the Warriors being at least this dominant next year, too. Even if they only kept either Stephen Curry or Durant -- and for now all signs point to them keeping both -- it's prudent to think they will win at least 60 games in 2017-18. If they were to do that, that would put them clearly above any four-year run by a team in the 3-point era.
We're getting a little ahead of ourselves, but if they were to win the next two championships -- make it three in four years, with more than 250 wins -- then they'd surely be able to claim the most dominant run in modern NBA history.
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