New and notes from around the NBA:
With their Thursday night win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Golden State Warriors improved to a stunning 55-5 — the best record in NBA history through 60 games. Behind stellar play from Stephen Curry, the Warriors have the very real opportunity to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time record of 72-10.
To do so, Golden State can afford to lose only four of their final 22 games. That's no easy task, with three left against the San Antonio Spurs, two apiece versus the Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and upstart Portland Trail Blazers, and one against the Clippers. Even for the defending champions, 18 of 22 might be too much of a stretch — but then, they did win 55 of 60.
Spurs a threat to catch Warriors
The Spurs and Warriors are the only two teams to have already clinched playoff berths. Through games played Friday, the Spurs (52-9) were only 3 1/2 games behind Golden State in the standings. Not only can San Antonio spoil the Warriors' quest to dethrone the Bulls with 72 wins, they still have a chance to overtake Golden State as the top seed in the Western Conference.
Two of the Spurs' three games against the Warriors are in San Antonio. Whoever wins the series would own the tiebreaker if they wind up with the same record. Another factor to consider, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich may rest his players along the way, preferring to have a healthier squad than the best record in the West. The Spurs also draw the Thunder three times before season's end.
Heat benefits from a player's generosity
After spending most of the season making trades to get beneath the NBA's $84.7 million luxury-tax threshold, the Miami Heat signed veteran Joe Johnson to climb right back into the tax. Fortunately for the team, injured point guard Beno Udrih accepted a buyout, shaving $90,000 of his salary to get Miami back to its goal.
Because of Udrih's generosity, the Heat will pocket more than $2.5 million by avoiding the tax. Typically, when a player receives a buyout, he will sign with another team to offset any money lost. Kris Humphries shaved $1 million off his remaining deal with the Phoenix Suns, signing soon after with the Atlanta Hawks for $1 million. Udrih, out for the season, is $90,000 in the hole. Any promise from the Heat to repay the veteran guard with a future contract is illegal under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.
Bulls badly missed Butler
With All-Star Jimmy Butler returning from a knee injury, the Bulls hope to climb back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference. Through Friday, Chicago had dropped four straight and eight of 11, losing its playoff footing by dipping to ninth place. The Bulls have also struggled with Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson dealing with hamstring issues, Joakim Noah (shoulder) being out for the year and Nikola Mirotic still trying to recover from an appendectomy. Injuries have decimated the team's hopes to displace the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top seed in the East.
Jimmer still can't stick
Jimmer Fredette's quest to find an NBA home passed unsuccessfully through New York. The former Brigham Young star guard was signed to a $60,000, 10-day contract, but the Knicks chose not to retain him after it expired. Drafted with the 10th overall pick in 2011, Fredette was waived by the Sacramento Kings midway through his third season. Subsequent stints with the New Orleans Pelicans, Bulls and Spurs (through the preseason) didn't stick. Fredette recently won the most-valuable-player award in the NBA Development League's All-Star game with the Westchester Knicks, but he has struggled to find his footing in the NBA.
Michael Beasley back from China
On Friday, the Houston Rockets signed forward Michael Beasley to help bolster the team's playoff push. The 27-year old forward, originally drafted by the Heat with the second overall pick in 2008, spent most of the current season in China with the Shandong Golden Stars, where — like Fredette in the D-League — he was the All-Star MVP.
CLIPPERS AT OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
When: Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. PST. TV: ESPN, Prime Ticket.
The Thunder has been slip-sliding since the All-Star break and has fallen into the Clippers’ neighborhood in the standings. This game, and a rematch between these teams later this month, will help determine the No. 3 seed in the West. It matters because if the favorites in the first round of the playoffs advance, the No. 3 seed then takes on San Antonio while the No. 4 seed faces defending champion Golden State. Granted, it’s a pick-your-poison matchup either way.
Follow Eric Pincus on Twitter @EricPincus