Basketball: Golden State Warriors' quest has a familiar ring

The chase for another championship ring is the next challenge for the Golden State Warriors, who ended the regular season by claiming a record-breaking 73rd win on Wednesday. They take on the Houston Rockets in the first round of the Western Conferen
The chase for another championship ring is the next challenge for the Golden State Warriors, who ended the regular season by claiming a record-breaking 73rd win on Wednesday. They take on the Houston Rockets in the first round of the Western Conference play-offs.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Golden State determined to end season of many records with second straight c'ship

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 National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs open today they know their historic 73-win regular season will lose its lustre unless they end the campaign with a championship.

The Warriors have been compared to those Michael Jordan-led Bulls all season long, with many former greats proclaiming that they 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 match-up.

Shrugging off such a hypothesis, 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.

ALL IN THE HEAD

It's a mind switch. I'm going to the gym even more. Dialling in even more to focus on what I need to do for us to be better."

LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland Cavaliers star, on setting his mind to win an NBA championship for his team.

"With Pippen coming out and saying what he said, that's cool. We respect those guys (on that team)," Golden State forward Draymond Green said. "We've got one of them in our locker room."

A BULL ON THEIR SIDE

With Pippen coming out and saying what he said, that's cool. We respect those guys (on that team). We've got one of them in our locker room."

DRAYMOND GREEN, Golden State Warriors forward, on former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen's declaration that his 1995-96 team would sweep the Warriors in a hypothetical series. Warriors coach Steve Kerr was on that Bulls team.

The Cleveland Cavaliers would love a return trip to the NBA Finals and a rematch with the Warriors but must first steady their 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.

The standout trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have yet to reach the potential imagined when they teamed up last season. James has romanticised about joining forces with opposing All-Stars, bringing into question the Cavs' chemistry.

Despite that, Cleveland are heavy favourites to win the East and James, looking to reach a sixth straight NBA Final, insists he is focused on leading these Cavs.

"It's a mind switch. I'm going to the gym even more," James said. "Dialling in even more to focus 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 Atlanta Hawks will attempt to build on last season's run to the conference final, while the Boston Celtics will not be pushovers.

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 post-season 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 Blake Griffin can ignite their championship hopes. The forward 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". REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline 'Quest has familiar ring'. Print Edition | Subscribe