NBA Power Rankings Week 21: Milwaukee Bucks won’t match Warriors

Golden State Warriors (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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NBA LeBron James Giannis Antetokoumpo
Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokoumpo (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

It’s official: The Milwaukee Bucks will not match the 73 wins of the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors. But they still lead the NBA Power Rankings by a mile.

There were no champagne corks popping somewhere in the Bay Area, no television crews on hand to gauge the reaction of the players who made it through another NBA season without seeing their fall. No, it was just a mathematical reality Friday night — with their loss Friday to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks cannot match the NBA record for wins in a season.

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But this isn’t like the National Football League, where the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins mark the first loss of the season by the last unbeaten team with a champagne toast to commemorate remaining the only team in the history of the NFL to finish a season as unbeaten and untied champions.

The Golden State Warriors in 2015-16 set that standard by finishing 73-9 — the only single-digit loss season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96. But the Warriors would have difficulty celebrating such a milestone anyway, considering six of the members of that squad are still active in the NBA and not all still with Golden State.

And it’s a complicated legacy anyway since the 73 wins didn’t prevent the Warriors from finishing one victory short of putting the championship cherry on top of the super-season cake.

Instead, the Warriors became the fourth team to tie or break the regular-season wins record without winning the title (to be fair, two of those teams were doomed to make this list regardless of circumstances, as you’ll see in a moment).

Here is the progressive record for regular-season wins in the NBA and its forerunner, the Basketball Association of America (non-title winners in bold):

  • 1946-47 Washington Capitols 49-11 (lost to Chicago Stags in BAA Semifinals)
  • 1949-50 Syracuse Nationals 51-13 (lost to Minneapolis Lakers in NBA Finals)
  • 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers 51-17 (won NBA title)
  • 1949-50 Rochester Royals 51-17 (lost to Fort Wayne Pistons in division semifinals)
  • 1958-59 Boston Celtics 52-20 (won NBA title)
  • 1959-60 Boston Celtics 59-16 (won NBA title)
  • 1961-62 Boston Celtics 60-20 (won NBA title)
  • 1964-65 Boston Celtics 62-18 (won NBA title)
  • 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers 68-13 (won NBA title)
  • 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers 69-13 (won NBA title)
  • 1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72-10 (won NBA title)
  • 2015-16 Golden State Warriors 73-9 (lost to Cleveland Cavaliers in NBA Finals)

Of course, this is part of the perception problem the NBA is battling — the notion that the regular season doesn’t matter. This is something the 2019-20 Bucks are very familiar with.

After all, Milwaukee finished last season with the best record in the NBA at 60-22 and had a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals before the Toronto Raptors roared back to win four straight games en route to their first NBA championship.

It’s why, despite a sterling 53-10 record and a pace to match the 1971-72 Lakers as the third-best regular-season team in NBA history, the Bucks have skeptics.

Because if it was all about the bass for Meghan Trainor in 2014, in professional sports circa the 21st century, it’s all about those rangzzzzz.

Of course, that’s been true since before the Y2K scares of 1999. In the spring of 1996, the Detroit Red Wings had skated to a National Hockey League record 62 wins during the regular season before losing in the Western Conference Finals to the Colorado Avalanche. I recall seeing a T-shirt that read: “62 wins? Good season. 16 more woulda been great.”

Regular-season excellence, it seems, will only go so far. The 2001 Seattle Mariners in Major League Baseball know that all too well. Their 116 victories that season are the league record for most wins in a 162-game season, but a 4-1 loss to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series is that group’s lasting legacy.

Now for the spoiler alert: Even with the loss on Friday night, the Bucks remain No. 1 in the NBA Power Rankings and by a substantial margin. Milwaukee retains a four-game lead over the Lakers for the best record in the NBA with an 8½-game edge over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference (as well as a 2-0 edge in the season series with two games remaining).

But the legacy of the Bucks will be written in June (or earlier), not March or April. The Golden State Warriors from four seasons ago learned all of that the hard way.

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Last week: Lost to Washington 124-110, won at Denver 116-100, lost to Toronto 121-113, beat Philadelphia 118-114

This week: Tuesday vs. Clippers, Thursday vs. Brooklyn, Saturday at Milwaukee

Prior to last week, the Golden State Warriors had won just two games this season against teams that are currently at or above the .500 mark. They doubled that count over the last seven days, picking up a stunning road win at Denver on Tuesday before handing the 76ers yet another road loss on Saturday.

The Warriors did get Stephen Curry back last week, as well, as he returned in Thursday’s loss to the Raptors, but did not play Saturday due to illness. So with a decidedly non-dynasty starting five of Andrew Wiggins, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Marquese Chriss, Mychal Mulder and Damion Lee, the Dubs popped the Sixers.

But it was Villanova rookie Eric Paschall who did the most damage Saturday, coming off the bench for 23 points, six assists and three rebounds in 29 minutes on 8-of-12 shooting. For the week, he averaged 19.5 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 32.5 minutes a night, shooting 492 percent overall and going 4-for-11 from 3-point range.