May 30, 2024
The Warriors are planning on prioritizing rest over going all-out against the Jazz.

At multiple points in the past couple weeks, the Warriors have peered through a window into the top of the play-in bracket, only for it to quickly slam shut.

Steve Kerr admitted that losing in Dallas at the buzzer on April 5 “shifted things” for the Warriors. But even after that defeat, Golden State ripped off three straight wins to once again have the inside track at the eighth seed.

A victory over the Pelicans on Friday night would’ve put the Warriors in pole position for the eighth seed — a coveted outcome because they’d have two chances to win one game. Instead, New Orleans hit 20 of their 38 attempts from 3-point land to darken the mood again at 1 Warriors Way.

“It stings a lot,” Klay Thompson said of the loss that fractions their chances at avoiding the 9/10 play-in round.

Entering the regular season finale, the new reality is much more calcified for the Warriors. To escape the lower tier play-in round, they must beat the Jazz and get help via losses from both the Lakers and Kings.

That long-shot scenario — PlayoffStatus.com gives it a 5% chance to occur — begins with the Warriors playing an actual basketball game against Utah in the Chase Center on Sunday afternoon. The Warriors won’t know their exact seeding fate before tipoff, but it seems like they’ll be operating as if they don’t care. When asked if he’d be resting players in the regular season finale, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr tipped his hand.

“Oh, hell yeah,” Kerr said.

Even though the Warriors still have an outside chance at that eighth seed, their priorities have shifted once again.

“I mean, you prefer to stay at home, but if you look at what we’re facing, it’s a gauntlet,” Kerr said. “You’ve got to play two play-in games, and if you can win those two, then you’ve got a Game 1 48 hours after that. I’m much more interested in our ability to be ready for next week. But we’ve got to wait and see how everything shakes out.”

The Warriors have essentially a coin-flip chance at either the ninth or 10th seed, per PlayoffStatus.com. If they’re the 10th seed, they’ll have to beat either the Kings or Lakers on the road to earn the right to travel to whoever lost the upper tier play-in matchup. It would be two games in three days, with transit in the middle.

That, or some variation of it, is the gauntlet Kerr alluded to. It’s the main reason why getting veterans rest in the finale will take priority.

The Warriors rested Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on Thursday night in Portland, but they could always use an extra day. Thompson has recovered from two catastrophic leg injuries. Green has been banged up with back soreness this year and takes physical punishment nightly as the Warriors’ best interior defender. They’re both 34.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world, considering we’ve played a hectic schedule this last month with a ton of travel,” Thompson said. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

Thompson has played 76 games this year — his most since the season before his torn ACL — which he takes immense pride in. The Warriors will almost certainly reward his durability with a Sunday afternoon off. Same goes for Green.

Steph Curry, too, will quite possibly sit out the regular season finale. Even if he continues to deny that he’s fatigued, as he has all year, the signs are there. His 2,421 minutes are his highest total since the 2016-17 season, when he was 28 years old. His shooting splits were significantly down in March, a month in which he also suffered an ankle sprain. He just played a combined 68 minutes in a back-to-back.

Kerr has said one indicator he gives credence to when it comes to Curry’s fatigue is his decision-making. Against New Orleans on Friday night, Curry matched his season-high with seven turnovers.

“We’ll assess where everybody is tomorrow and the next day, decide who to play (Sunday),” Kerr said. “But the back-to-back — last night was a tough game, I think Steph played 36 minutes. It’s a lot at 36 years old. And every game we’ve played has been a playoff game in the last couple weeks.”

Curry rested last week against the Jazz, in a game the Warriors won easily. They’ve already proven they can beat the Jazz without Curry, and will probably test that again.

If Curry, Thompson and Green sit, might Chris Paul also join the street clothes crew? The 38-year-old is fresh, having played a career-low 26 minutes per game and missed six weeks with a fractured hand. But like Thompson said, an extra day off probably can’t hurt.

Three years ago, the Warriors got their first and only taste of the play-in round their gearing up for now. That season, they finished on a tear, winning eight of their last nine games to secure the eighth seed.

If the Warriors beat the lowly Jazz Sunday, they’ll have finished the season winners of 10 of their last 12.

The 2020-21 Warriors lost the 7/8 play-in game to the Lakers. Then they fell to the Grizzlies in overtime to end their season before they could even play a real series.

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“We’ve been through it, with the ‘21 season,” Curry said. “We understand it feels like a Game 7 kind of experience. Every possession is heightened, because if you lose, you know what the circumstances are.”

No matter how strong a team finishes, or how rested they are, the play-in format is unforgiven. Win-or-go-home games are just that: one team heads home.

“We just want to get to a playoff series,” Curry said. “How we can get there, how we can get it done — there’s a lot of confidence we can beat anybody on any given night. And we have to hold onto that, because one game Sunday, then it’s do-or-die.”

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