The impulse to compare great teams across different eras is both understandable and absurd. Although these questions make for fun hypotheticals, so many variables have changed over time that it’s nearly impossible to render a conclusive verdict for any fantasy matchup.
This hasn’t stopped Magic Johnson from asserting that the Showtime Lakers would beat this year’s Warriors, a sentiment with which his former teammate Mychal Thompson (Klay’s dad) fervently disagrees. Given this, as well as the hullabaloo over a hypothetical matchup between the Warriors and the 1995–96 Bulls and Charles Barkley’s incessant dismissiveness of the Dubs, we felt it our duty to determine the most intriguing (not necessarily the best) historical opponents Golden State could face. At the very least, these squads would give the Warriors a better fight than the 2016 Cavs.
1. 1995 Orlando Magic
From Jonathan Abrams’s oral history of the Shaq-Penny Magic: “In their four Finals games, the Magic attempted 118 3-pointers, nearly 30 per game. The 3-point shot has become increasingly vital in the modern NBA, but to date, no team has averaged more 3-point attempts in a Finals series than the Magic did 20 years ago.”
While this took place during the brief period when the 3-point line was only 22 feet from the basket (see what I mean about changing variables?), it’d be interesting to see if Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson could beat the Splash Brothers at their own game, and how the Warriors would attempt to contain a 22-year-old Shaq after getting manhandled by Steven Adams.
2. 1989 Detroit Pistons
Earlier this year, mlive.com published a slideshow asserting that the Bad Boy Pistons would “crush” the Warriors. This is a Baylessian hot take, but I see the point. The Isiah Thomas–Bill Laimbeer Pistons were renowned for their physical play, and I think they’d try to literally crush the notoriously finesse-oriented Dubs. They better pray that Bill Kennedy is officiating, though.
3. 2012 Miami Heat
Last month, ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe wrote that the Warriors coaching staff was “quietly fretting” when both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love got hurt in last year’s playoffs because it forced the Cavs to surround LeBron James with better defenders. Well, if they were scared of that motley crew, which featured Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert playing big minutes, they’d presumably be very afraid of the 2012 Heat, which featured the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Shane Battier alongside a more youthful LeBron.
4. 2017 Darussafaka
After leading last year’s Cavs to a 2–1 Finals lead over the Warriors, David Blatt knows what it takes to outfox Steve Kerr in the playoffs. Never mind that Cleveland went on to lose the next three games in the series — Blatt didn’t mesh well with LeBron to begin with, and now he’s back overseas. Let’s give him the rematch that he deserves.
5. 1950 Minneapolis Lakers
John Kundla’s legendary squad remains the only NBA team to win back-to-back championships in its first two years of existence. The Lakers boasted two All-NBA first-teamers in George Mikan and Jim Pollard — one more than the Warriors have — and lost just two games in the entire postseason, three fewer than the Warriors have. The 3-point line still didn’t exist and it’s doubtful that many players on this team could even touch the rim, but the numbers don’t lie.
6. 1900 Trenton Nationals
Basketball’s first dynasty played small before it was cool — Trenton’s starting five stood at an average height of 5-foot-10 — and regularly “left blood smearing the creaky gym floors.” The Nationals almost always held their opponents to fewer than 20 points per game (pay no mind to how many points they scored), and they played with a chain-link cage surrounding their court, which would make for a unique home-court advantage. If the Nats could dominate the top YMCA teams of the late 19th century, they should be able to keep things competitive with the Warriors, and who wouldn’t want to see Steph and Klay running around in a cage?