History of defending NBA champions shows Stephen Curry, Warriors could be going down dark path

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The Warriors have been looking more like cubic zirconia than gold to start the 2022-23 season.

Through the first month of the new campaign, Golden State has been one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA. After a loss to the Suns on Wednesday night, which prompted some strong criticism from head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors are sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Stephen Curry has been spectacular, averaging 32.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists with 53.1/44.7/92.9 shooting splits (field goals/3-pointers/free throws). Beyond Curry’s individual brilliance, though, the numbers have been rough.

Golden State owns the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league (114.1) after finishing second in that category last season (106.6). The Warriors are one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams, and they are turning the ball over at a high rate. Opponents are dominating their bench units.

While there is still time for the Warriors to rediscover their golden form, it’s impossible to completely ignore the warning signs, especially when considering the history of teams that struggled early in the seasons immediately following a championship run.

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What history of defending NBA champions tells us about Warriors

Golden State’s loss to Phoenix left Kerr’s squad with a 6-9 overall record. That is tied for the third-worst mark ever by a defending champion through 15 games.

Only making matters worse, the Warriors are 0-8 on the road. That’s the longest road losing streak by a defending champion since the 1998-99 Bulls, per ESPN Stats and Info. Last season, Golden State didn’t lose its eighth road game until Jan. 13, 2022.

Worst 15-game starts by defending champion
Season Team Record Final record
1969-70 Boston Celtics 4-11 34-48
1998-99 Chicago Bulls 4-11 13-37
2002-03 Los Angeles Lakers 5-10 50-32
1948-49 Baltimore Bullets 6-9 29-31
1956-57 Philadelphia Warriors 6-9 37-35
2006-07 Miami Heat 6-9 44-38
2022-23 Golden State Warriors 6-9 ?
1947-48 Philadelphia Warriors 7-8 27-21
2004-05 Detroit Pistons 7-8 54-28
2021-22 Milwaukee Bucks 7-8 51-31

It’s difficult to compare the 2022-23 Warriors to teams from the 1940s and ’50s, but there are some lessons to take from the modern groups.

The 1969-70 Celtics and 1998-99 Bulls both failed to reach the NBA Playoffs after losing larger-than-life superstars in Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. The Warriors still have their core trio of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in place, but they did lose significant role players like Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II during the offseason.

The 2002-03 Lakers were unable to pull off a four-peat, losing in the Western Conference Semifinals after winning three straight titles. They then lost to the Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals, effectively ending the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal era. The Warriors could be on a similar trajectory, as they have won four rings in eight seasons.

Perhaps the best-case scenario on the above list, the 2004-05 Pistons took the Spurs to seven games in the 2005 NBA Finals, but they couldn’t go back-to-back. Detroit did manage to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the following three seasons before kicking off a long rebuild. Could the Warriors could extend their championship window with a win-now trade?

On the other side of the spectrum, the 2006-07 Heat were doomed by injuries. O’Neal and Dwyane Wade only played in 91 games combined, and Miami was swept off the floor in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Warriors have avoided any major injuries thus far, but the health of Curry, Thompson and Green will be worth monitoring.

And lastly, the 2021-22 Bucks recovered from their slow start, tying the Celtics and 76ers for the second-best record in the East (51-31). Milwaukee fell to Boston in a competitive Eastern Conference Semifinals series, but the Bucks are positioned to be a top contender for years to come.

So, what’s the main takeaway here? Well, each team has one thing in common: It didn’t win the championship. The Warriors have some serious work to do if they want to break that trend.

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