As the Golden State Warriors inch closer to breaking the Chicago Bulls' 20-year-old NBA record of 72 wins, talking heads have begun arguing over which team is the best of all time. Sports fans love to claim that whatever we're witnessing at the moment is the best ever while also saying the thing that happened 20 years ago was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
No matter which side of the debate you stand on, everyone can agree on one thing: It's impossible to compare the two teams because the game has changed so much between 1996 and 2016.
So let's argue over a much closer comparison: The 2013 Miami Heat, which came up only six wins shy of that Chicago Bulls record. Would this year's record-threatening Golden State squad beat that champion edition of the Heat in a seven-game series?
In the one game the teams met (albeit not these Warriors) where Steph Curry played that season, the Heat held him to just a single three-point basket and nine points.
Would the Heat have had so much success in a seven-game series against today's Steph Curry? The easy answer is hell no, but if the Heat did anything close, it would win this game. Let's look at some point-by-point comparisons.
Style of play
The Golden State Warriors rely on outscoring their opponents. With the sort of firepower they have, it's not hard to see how that strategy works quite often. The Warriors average an NBA-best 115.4 points per game this season, but they give up a 22nd-best 104.1 points per game. In comparison, the champion Miami Heat placed fifth-best in points per game (102.9) and points given up per game (95).
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In an on-court showdown, the teams would likely have met somewhere in the middle. The Warriors current pace of play (100) and the 2013 Heat's (90.7) would have resulted in a tug-of-war. The Heat relied on defensive intensity and offensive efficiency to win games, while the Warriors rely heavily on ball movement, pace, and an otherworldly player who would have had his hands full trying to get off shots against the best version of LeBron James we will ever see. Even last year's LeBron James had a field day in the NBA Finals against this Warriors team with a supporting cast that was laughable compared to what he had in Miami. If LeBron had what he had in Miami in last year's finals, the Warriors wouldn't be defending a championship this season.
The 2013 Heat was capable of winning in a multitude of fashions. If Dwyane Wade and LBJ went cold from the field on a particular night, their defense was more than capable of carrying the load. That's not so with the Warriors. While the Warriors are a very capable defensive team in stretches, their wins usually come with no thanks to their defense. In Golden State's five losses this season, they have scored an average of 99 points. The only win they have this season in a game where they scored fewer than 100 is ironically against LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Could Miami have held this Warriors team close to the magical century mark? Smart money might be on yes.
On a player-by-player basis, the 2013 Heat would have had plenty of defensive options at its disposal. LeBron would have taken on the responsibility of guarding Curry. Shane Battier would have been tasked with sticking Klay Thompson. Chris Bosh would have guarded Draymond Green. The Warriors would have had one helluva time living up to the present superhero performances they put on a nightly basis. And when they were done trying to score on that defensive nightmare, they would have been rewarded with the task of trying to stop an offense dubbed The Flying Death Machine. Though it's unwise to assume the Heat would have an answer for the Warriors' lethal three-point shooting, Miami would have been much better equipped to slow its offense than most of the team's current-day opponents.
Let's forget comparing the Michael Jordan Bulls and these Warriors for the best team of all time. Instead, start the conversation with the 2013 Miami Heat — and it might just end right there.