The Golden State Warriors may go 82-0 this season. It almost seems like the defending NBA champions won't lose again after storming back from 23 points down on Thursday night to beat the Los Angeles Clippers and improve to 13-0. On Friday night, they'll go for a 14-0 start at home against the Chicago Bulls, something no team has done in 13 years.
That team was the 2002-03 Dallas Mavericks.
Ah, yes, the best Mavericks team ever assembled pre-'06 Finals and pre-2011 championship. The 2003 season was historic for Dallas. This Mavericks team won 60 games, endured two grueling seven-game series against the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings before running out of gas in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
And yes, the Mavs would have won the championship that year had Dirk Nowitzki not gotten hurt in the Spurs series. I still believe that.
Before winning those 60 games and making it to their first Western Conference Finals since 1988, these Mavericks were on the cusp of making history. Dallas won its first 14 games, falling one win short of tying the best start in NBA history set by the Washington Capitols (THE CAPITOLS WITH AN 'O') in the 1948-49 season and the Houston Rockets in 1993-94. Unfortunately, the schedule gods weren't in Dallas' favor.
There have been many of winning streaks in Mavericks history but nothing tops that 2003 season start. Let's take a trip down memory lane.
In the beginning, the Mavs beat teams they needed to beat
Not all winning streaks feature wins over elite teams all the time, but it's important for any good team to beat below-.500 squads that are put in front of them.
That was the case for the Mavericks. Their first five games were against the following teams: The Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. Today, those teams are all fine opponents for the Mavericks.
But back in 2002, George W. Bush was president, gas was a buck and a half per gallon and none of those four teams listed above made the playoffs. That's right: we're going back to the days when the Warriors were an abomination in the NBA, Pau Gasol was in his second year in the league and Stephon Marbury was a starting point guard on an NBA team.
Feel old yet?
Dallas played three of its first five games on the road, and three of those wins came by double digits. The slimmest margin of victory within that span was seven points against the Warriors, and that's because Jason Richardson went bonkers for 39 points.
Mavericks 119, Grizzlies 108 (1-0)
Mavericks 97, Suns 83 (2-0)
Mavericks 107, Warriors 100 (3-0)
Mavericks 106, Raptors 92 (4-0)
Mavericks 114, Bulls 87 (5-0)
The Big Three of Dirk, Michael Finley and Steve Nash carried Dallas night in and night out. Dirk scored 20 points or more in that first five-game stretch. Finley scored 20 or more three times. Nash even scored 20 or more twice, including 30 points against the Warriors. This was a deadly offensive machine that needed more than one defender to stop them on a nightly basis.
And after taking care of business to start the year, the competition got better ... and so did the Mavericks.
The Mavericks handled the East with ease (...almost)
The Eastern Conference, 13 years ago, had slightly more parity than it does now. Keep in mind that this was the year before LeBron James was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. This was when the Cavs were a 17-win team trying to crawl out of obscurity.
In 2003, the eight playoff spots in the East was decided by eight games. And there was talent on those teams, but compared to the Western Conference, it was the equivalent of a snowball's chance in hell. The Mavs showed this to be true over the next five games.
When a new season begins, you need to take early results with at least one grain of salt. The Detroit Pistons were not a bad team. They were the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and came into a Nov. 9 matchup with the Mavericks, in Dallas, at 5-1. It was the Pistons era of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton. They were really good!
... and the Mavericks mopped the ever-living crap out of them by 39 points. Want to know how absurd of a night this was for Dallas? Every Maverick scored. That included 16 points from Eduardo Najera and 10 from Walt freaking Williams off the bench. They even got seven points from Raja Bell ... and six from Avery Johnson!
Mavericks 114, Pistons 75 (6-0)
Dallas beat Boston and New Jersey by nine and eight points, respectively. But of all teams to give the Mavericks their biggest scare for their first loss, it was Cleveland. Somehow the Mavericks survived Zydrunas Ilgauskas' 34-point, 14-rebound night.
Mavericks 82, Trail Blazers 73 (7-0)
Mavericks 103, Cavaliers 99 (8-0)
Mavericks 97, Celtics 86 (9-0)
Mavericks 96, Nets 88 (10-0)
Then the Mavs destroyed the Lakers!
As the story goes, the box score says the Mavericks put the hammer on the Lakers in Dallas on Nov. 19.
The box score also shows Shaquille O'Neal did not play in this game, with the Mavs winning 98-72. And if Shaq was not playing, surely the great Shawn Bradley had to have a decent game ... *checks box score* OH HE HAD 16 POINTS AND 12 REBOUNDS AGAINST A SHAQ-LESS LAKERS TEAM. WHAT IS LIFE?
Mavericks 98, Lakers 72 (11-0)
There weren't many times Bradley was appreciated for being the tall stick-like figure protecting the paint that he was for the Mavericks, but he saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. Kobe Bryant shot 7-for-21, and the Mavs got 57 points from their Big Three. Nevertheless, with or without Shaq, a win over the Lakers at this time was a huge event.
Of course, the Lakers fans got their revenge more than two weeks later with Shaq and a 44-point fourth quarter coming back from a 30-point lead. But that's a dark place. Let's stay happy.
Dallas followed that Lakers win with three more double digit wins, with the most notable coming on Nov. 21 at home against the Houston Rockets, and a rookie Yao Ming that scored 30 points and took the NBA by storm that night. Two more wins against the Pistons (again!, this time by 20 points) and the Seattle Supersonics in which the Big Three scored 85 of the Mavs' 115 points.
Mavericks 103, Rockets 90 (12-0)
Mavericks 115, Supersonics 105 (13-0)
Mavericks 102, Pistons 82 (14-0)
But as I said before, the schedule gods were not kind to Dallas. The next night after taking care of the Sonics, on Thanksgiving, against Reggie Miller, Jermaine O'Neal and the Indiana Pacers.
The legendary start had to end
Looking back on it, how this Pacers only won 48 games in 2003 is still a mystery. Though Reggie Miller was entering the twilight of his career, Jermaine O'Neal was one of the best big men of the early 2000s and Al Harrington was a beast.
If the Mavs were going to run into a buzzsaw at some point, it had to be this Pacers team on the second night of a back-to-back on a holiday. Dallas lost. Dirk had his worst shooting performance of the year, making only four of his 20 attempts. Nash had 29 points and nine assists, which was fantastic, but Finley scored 16 points on 20 shots. Dallas needed special Dirk and Finley performances to win that evening. It didn't happen.
Pacers 110, Mavericks 98 (14-1)
Dallas went onto win their next three games until the Shaq-led Lakers made that huge comeback mentioned above. They sat at 25-5 on New Year's Day, running into some slumps and a couple three-game losing streaks that saw them just barely hit the 60-win plateau.
But that 14-0 start for the Mavericks still has to stand as one of the most under-appreciated times in Mavericks history. The 2002-03 season, in general, seems to be forgotten. No one thought the Mavericks would challenge 72 wins that year, but they were a fun team that was on the cusp of NBA history.
Good luck to the Warriors, who play the Bulls tonight. If history repeats itself, this may be where their streak ends: a tough back-to-back against a strong Eastern Conference team. Or maybe this Golden State team will actually push for 70-plus wins.
May this tale of the best start in modern basketball be their guide as they continue breaking records.