The Golden State Warriors are preparing for history.
Wednesday night, at home against the Memphis Grizzlies, the defending NBA champions will take its shot at league-record 73 victories, one more than the Chicago Bulls registered in the 1995-96 season.
But do 73 victories make Golden State the best regular-season franchise in NBA history? How do the 2015-16 Warriors compare with the top seasons in North America’s other three major sports?
Here’s one view of the 15 most impressive regular seasons determined by record, point differential and a few advanced metrics. Only regular seasons are considered. Indeed, playoffs, even for the best of teams, often produce decidedly different results.
15. 1976 Cincinnati Reds: Yes, the ’75 Reds won six more games but the ’76 Big Red Machine truly was in a league of its own. Cincinnati (102-60) led the National League in batting average, hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases and on base percentage as well as fielding. League MVP Joe Morgan combined a .320 batting average with 60 stolen bases and 122 RBIs while leading the NL in OPS. Pete Rose was the league leader in batting average and doubles. Although playoffs are not part of this discussion, the ’76 Reds are the only team in the divisional era to complete a postseason undefeated, sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS and the New York Yankees in the World Series.
14. 2001 Seattle Mariners: Led by American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki (.350 batting average, 127 runs scored, 56 stolen bases) and a pitching staff with four starters who won at least 15 games, the Mariners won an American League record 116 games. They batted .288 as a team and scored 300 more runs than their opponents (1.85 run differential). As with the 2016 Warriors, Seattle had a chance to set a major league record for wins in its final game, playing before a raucous home crowd of 45,578 at Safeco Field. The Mariners, however, came up short, losing 4-3 to the last place Texas Rangers. The disappointment continued into the postseason. Seattle needed a full five games to defeat the Cleveland Indians in the division series before falling to the New York Yankees four games to one in the ALCS.
13. 1970-71 Boston Bruins: With center Phil Esposito scoring a record 76 goals and defenseman Bobby Orr registering a league-leading 102 assists while dominating the game’s flow, the Bruins appeared to be playing another sport. The B’s 399 goals set an NHL single-season record, more than 100 better than the next team that season, and their goal differential was an astonishing 2.46 per game. Boston roared to a 57-14-7 record, good for 121 points, 12 points clear of the next best team. The league’s top four scorers were all Bruins: Esposito, Orr, Johnny Bucyk and Ken Hodge. Orr, whose 139 points remains an NHL record for defensemen, won both the Norris Trophy as best blue liner and the Hart Trophy as MVP. The Bruins were heavy favorites to win their second straight Stanley Cup but fell in seven games in the first round of the playoffs to the Montreal Canadiens and rookie goalie Ken Dryden.
12. 1942 Chicago Bears: How good were the ’42 Bears? They went undefeated (11-0) while defeating their opponents by a combined 376-84, an average of nearly 27 points per game, an NFL record that has never been approached. No team was within 14 points of these Monsters of the Midway. Quarterback Sid Luckman averaged better than 18 yards per completion. The Bears led the NFL in rushing while Clyde “Bulldog” Turner was the league’s top interceptor with eight. ProFootballRefercence.com gives the ’42 Bears an SRS rating of 21.2, the highest in NFL history. In the NFL Championship Game, however, four Bears turnovers helped the Washington Redskins stun Chicago 14-6, one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.
11. 1998 New York Yankees: Truly a team whose sum was greater than its parts, No Yankee hit 30 home runs but eight players hit at least 17. Only David Cone won 20 games but five other pitchers won at least 10 while Mariano Rivera saved 36. Derek Jeter led the AL with 127 runs but no other Yankee topped the league in a major offensive category. Yet the ’98 Yanks won an American League record 114 games while leading the league in most runs scored and fewest allowed. Their run differential of 1.91 was best of any Yankees team since before World War II. New York went 11-2 in the playoffs, finishing with a four-game World Series sweep of the San Diego Padres.
10. 1972 Miami Dolphins: Here’s a not-so-little secret about NFL’s only undefeated team, regular season and playoffs combined. The ’72 Dolphins played one of the easiest schedules of any Super Bowl champion. They faced only two winning teams in the regular season and no opponent made the playoffs. The run-oriented offense of 1,000-yard rushers Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, plus Jim Kiick, helped keep the pressure off backup quarterback Earl Morrall, who replaced starter Bob Griese for much of the season. A strong case could be made that the ’73 Dolphins were superior despite a 12-2 record. They played a more difficult schedule, including three playoff teams, and were more dominant in the postseason. ProFootballRefercence.com gives the ’73 Miami team a higher SRS rating than the ’72 group. Still, the ’72 squad did lead the NFL in most points scored and fewest allowed. Going undefeated in the NFL, even against subpar opponents, is not easy.
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9. 1906 Chicago Cubs: Darn, the Cubs were good in the early 1900s. Between 1904 and 1911 they won more than 90 games every season, going past 100 in four of those years. The high-water mark was 1906. The Cubs who finished 20 games ahead of the defending world champion New York Giants by registering a major league record 116 victories in only 152 games, a .763 winning percentage that would equate to 123 wins over a 162-game season. The Cubs topped the National League in runs scored and fewest allowed for a run differential of 2.13, the best of the dead ball era. Led by 26-game winner Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown, the team ERA was 1.75. But in the only all-Chicago World Series, the White Sox quieted the Cubs’ bats and won in six games. However, the Cubs did atone, winning the Series in 1907 and again in ’08.
8. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors: How can the NBA’s winningest single-season team rank behind the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers? Those teams didn’t win 73 games Here’s why: The Warriors had a much tougher go of things. They needed seven overtime games to keep winning. The ’72 Lakers played only three overtime games, winning two, while the ’96 Bulls played just two OT contests, winning both. Both the Lakers and the Bulls had a superior point differential, nearly two points per game better than Golden State’s 10.6. BasketballReference.com gives the ’96 Bulls an SRS rating of 11.80, the ’72 Lakers 11.65 and the ’16 Warriors 10.28. The website’s, offensive and defensive ratings, judged by points scored or points allowed for every 100 possessions, rated the Bulls tops in both categories in 1996, the Lakers tops in offense and second in defense in 1972 with the Warriors first in offense but only fifth in defense in 2016. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have helped produce the NBA’s most entertaining team--but perhaps not the best of all time.
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7. Green Bay Packers: Only a Thanksgiving Day defeat to the Detroit Lions kept Vince Lombardi’s finest squad from becoming the NFL’s first undefeated team of the playoff era. Still, the 13-1 Pack were outstanding. They led the NFL in both points scored (415) and fewest points allowed (148), a point differential of 19.1 per game, the NFL’s second best of the postwar era. Paced by Jim Taylor’s 1,474 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs, Green Bay ran the ball down the throats of NFL defenses, powering for 2,460 yards rushing, better than 175 per game. The Packers defeated the New York Giants 16-7 for the NFL championship, and their 19.2 SRS rating from ProFootballReference.com is among the highest in NFL history.
6. 1927 New York Yankees: Superlatives fail to do justice to this legendary team. Led by Babe Ruth’s record 60 home runs and Lou Gehrig’s league-leading 175 RBIs, the ’27 Yankees had no competition. Ruth and Gehrig out-homered every other team in baseball but one. The Yanks went 110-44, winning the American League pennant by 19 games, outscoring the league by 134 runs and allowing the fewest by 127. Their run differential was a spectacular 2.43. Waite Hoyt (22 wins. 2.63 ERA) led the pitching staff. The World Series was as afterthought as the Bronx Bombers swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games.
5. 1939 New York Yankees: The ’27 team has the fame, and the ’98 squad was seen by many more people but it is the ’39 Yankees that may be the best in franchise history. True, they “only” won 106 games, compared to 114 and 110 for the ’98 and ’27 teams, respectively. But the ’39 Yankees annihilated the American League in more impressive fashion. Led by the bats of Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey and Joe Gordon, and the pitching of 21-game winner Red Ruffing, the Yankees outscored their opponents 967-556, a staggering 2.73 runs per game and, by far, the best run differential in baseball history. The ERA of 3.31 was nearly a full run better than any other AL team. Longtime Yankees executive Ed Barrow, who helped forge championship team from the early 1920s through the 1940s, called the ’39 team superior to the ’27 group. Finally, the ’39 Yankees took care of business quickly in the World Series, sweeping the Cincinnati Reds in four games.
4. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls: Perhaps no team on this list was as ferocious as these Bulls. Angered and embarrassed by their six-game loss in the 1995 Eastern semifinals to the Orlando Magic, the Bulls took no prisoners the next season. They roared to a 41-3 start and never looked back, becoming the first NBA team to win 70 games and setting an NBA record of 72 wins. Michael Jordan, who had returned from a baseball hiatus to play the final 17 games of the ’95 regular season, was a man possessed. He again led the NBA scoring at 30.4 points per game while newly arrived Dennis Rodman was the league’s top rebounder at 14.9 per game. The combination of the NBA’s best scoring offense and third-best scoring defense gave the Bulls a point-per-game differential of 12.24, third best in NBA history. The playoffs were a coronation as Chicago went 15-3 to record their fourth championship in six seasons.
3. 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers: Why do the 69-win Lakers rank ahead of the 73-win Warriors and the 72-win Bulls? Because of the dominance they demonstrated in handling an environment far more difficult than what any NBA team faces today. They played a killer schedule, including three games in three days six times. During one stretch they played eight games in 11 days, another nine in 13. Seven of their 13 losses followed another game the day before. But the Lakers stood tall. They ran off a 33-game winning streak, the longest in the history of North American major league sports. Their point differential of 12.28 is an NBA record. Wilt Chamberlain averaged 19.2 rebounds to top the NBA while guards Gail Goodrich and Jerry West averaged 25.9 and 25.8 points, respectively, igniting a high-powered offense that averaged 121 points per game. After eight straight failures in the NBA Finals, the ’72 Lakers finally pushed through, winning the franchise’s first NBA title on the West Coast.
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2. 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens: Even for a franchise as steeped in history as Les Canadiens, this historic season stands out. Montreal skated to an unfathomable 60-8-12 season to register an NHL record 132 points. The Canadiens lost only once on the hallowed ice of the Montreal Forum. They outscored their opponents 387-171, a goal differential of 2.7, easily an NHL record. Most Valuable Player Guy Lafleur led the NHL with 136 points while sharpshooter Steve Shutt scored a league-high 60 goals. Goaltender Ken Dryden allowed only 2.14 goals per game and joined backup Michel “Bunny” Larocque in winning the Vezina Trophy. The Canadiens completed their dream season with a 12-2 playoff run, topped off by a four-game sweep of the Boston Bruins for their second of four straight Stanley Cups.
1. 2007 New England Patriots: Because the Pats ultimately lost the Super Bowl, the ’07 season is not remembered fondly in New England. But the last-minute defeat to the New York Giants should not overshadow what the Patriots accomplished between September and December. No other NFL team has completed a 16-0 regular season. Quarterback Tom Brady threw 50 TD passes and the team scored 589 points, both NFL records at the time. Randy Moss’ 23 TD pass receptions remain the league mark. New England’s 19.62 point differential is the best of the Super Bowl era as is their ProFootballReference.com SRS rating of 20.1. Unlike the ’72 Dolphins, who faced no playoff teams during their 14-0 regular season, the ’07 Patriots met five, beating them all by an average of two touchdowns. A bad ending, sure; but, certainly, a regular season worth celebrating.