SINGAPORE - The Golden State Warriors are on the verge of setting the National Basketball Association's (NBA) all-time regular-season record.
One more win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday morning (Singapore time) will give them a 73-9 win-loss mark for the 82-game season, eclipsing the previous record of 72-10 set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.
Such sustained excellence by the Warriors in the elite league has sparked off a debate as to whether they are the best team ever assembled since the NBA started in 1946.
While Curry and Co. are definitely in contention, there are plenty of candidates to be considered too. Here are the top six teams, chosen and ranked by The Straits Times.
6. THE 2000-01 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
(Regular season: 56-26. Play-offs: 15-1)
Featuring Shaquille O'Neal in his prime, a young Kobe Bryant as his sidekick and legendary coach Phil Jackson cajoling the duo to put aside their considerable egos for the team, the 2000-01 Lakers hit form just before the play-offs and trampled over all their play-off opponents. They swept the Portland Trail Blazers 3-0, then the Sacramento Kings 4-0 and finally the San Antonio Spurs 4-0. They lost the opening game of the NBA Finals in overtime to the Philadelphia 76ers, but recovered to win the next four.
That 15-1 run remains the all-time best play-off record, as fans witnessed how great the Shaq-Kobe combination could have been. Unfortunately, egos clashed and the duo were no more just three seasons later.
5. THE 1986-87 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
(Regular season: 65-17. Play-offs: 15-3)
Earvin "Magic" Johnson is arguably the best point guard to have ever played in the NBA, and the Lakers assembled the perfect team around him in the 1986-87 season. The "Showtime" Lakers ran unstoppable fast breaks, with Johnson gleefully zipping no-look passes to teammates to score.
In the memorable NBA Finals, Johnson hit a last-gasp hook shot in Game Four against the mighty Boston Celtics to give the Lakers the decisive advantage to eventually clinch the title. Their only blemish: They're not too good defensively.
4. THE 1971-72 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
(Regular season: 69-13. Play-offs: 12-3)
This team will forever be associated with the number 33. That's how many games they won in a row during the regular season - still the longest winning run by any North American sports franchise.
Featuring Hall of Famers Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor, this Lakers team were arguably the first to be serious about physiotherapy and diet, ensuring the players have an additional edge when playing against their peers, many of whom still smoke cigarettes and drink beer after each game.
3. THE 2015-16 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
(Regular season: 72-9 so far.)
A rollicking, unorthodox team with an entire new style of play, the Warriors swept through the regular season with two consecutive defeats, not to mention being on the verge of setting the all-time win-loss mark. They have not one, but two exceptional long-range shooters, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who can hit shots from just past the half court. That gives fits to opposing defences, who still haven't figured out any ideal way to stop them.
Coupled with an underrated defence, it is no wonder that the Warriors chalked up a near invincible season. If they can get past key rivals and win their second straight NBA title, they will move above the next team in this list.
2. THE 1995-96 CHICAGO BULLS
(Regular season: 72-10. Play-offs: 15-3)
It was Michael Jordan's first season back after two years of dabbling in minor-league baseball, and the Bulls superstar played like a man possessed. His sidekick, Scottie Pippen, was also much improved after two seasons as the main man. Phil Jackson remains the coach, while rebounding machine Dennis Rodman came on board. The result is a defensive juggernaut who could shut down any opponent, while scoring efficiently through Jordan and Pippen.
Curiously, they led 3-0 in the NBA Finals against Seattle Supersonics, but inexplicably let their guard down to lose twice before clinching the series 4-2. Otherwise they would have been ranked top.
1. THE 1985-86 BOSTON CELTICS
(Regular season: 67-15. Play-offs: 15-3)
Boasting four Hall of Famers - Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and reserve centre Bill Walton - the Celtics set the standard of home arena dominance, going 40-1 in the regular season at the Boston Garden. Led by Bird's sharpshooting and never-say-die spirit, McHale's low-post brilliance, Parish's rebounding prowess and Walton's infectious attitude, the Celtics bulldozed through every team in the regular season once Bird recovered from an early-season injury.
Their intensity continued into the play-offs, and they convincingly handled the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. In an era when the league has not been diluted with new franchises and existing teams were loaded with talent, the Celtics remained the benchmark for NBA excellence.