When Warriors head coach Steve Kerr arrived to practice at Chase Center Wednesday morning, the message he delivered to his team was clear.
“The playoffs start now,” he told them.
Less than 24 hours after a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Warriors watched film, scrimmaged and ironed out details before embarking on a four-game trip that starts Thursday in Minnesota. Bouncing back from Tuesday night’s 30-point loss will be key for Golden State to maximize these final 10 games and climb the Western Conference standings.
“We’ve always come back strong throughout the season every time things have looked bleak, or we’ve suffered a bad loss,” Kerr said. “They just proved to me that they’re moving on because we had a really good practice.”
After the loss, which accounted for Golden State’s ninth this season by 20 or more points, the 10th-place Warriors are 3½ games behind Dallas for the No. 6 seed. Avoiding the play-in tournament, at this point in the season, is unrealistic.
But the Warriors still have a chance to climb as high as seventh in the Western Conference standings. Doing so would place them in the seven-eight game in the play-in tournament and mean they’d only have to win one game to make the playoffs. In the nine-10 game, Golden State would have to win once, then beat the loser of the seven-eight game to earn a playoff berth.
“That’s clearly the goal,” Kerr said of getting the No. 7 seed. “Going into last night’s game, we had our sights set on six. Losing that game, I think it’s unrealistic to think now that we can get to that spot. So, seven is realistic, but we’re going to have to play really well.”
Only 2½ games separate the Warriors and the No. 7 Trail Blazers. To catch them, the Warriors must respond the way they did after April 2’s 53-point loss to the Raptors. That loss was the team’s sixth in seven games and marked a low point of the season. Four days later, they edged out the Milwaukee Bucks for a one-point win that kicked off an 8-4 stretch.
Fortunately for the Warriors, the schedule breaks in their favor. The next six games (Minnesota, Houston, New Orleans twice, Oklahoma City twice) are against sub-.500 teams and three of the worst five teams in the league. Going 5-1 or even 6-0 is realistic, but only if they execute the way they did in the games leading up to Tuesday night’s letdown.
After watching the film, Kerr pointed to a lack of defensive energy that allowed Dallas to easily get into their offense. Plus, the team’s 18 turnovers were the most since that loss to Toronto.
Getting back to their principles of being a top-10 defense and taking care of the ball will put the Warriors in position to make the most of a soft schedule that ends with a six-game homestand. The Warriors will also get a boost in the form of starting shooting guard Kent Bazemore, who will return Thursday from a three-game stay in the NBA’s health and safety protocol.
This runway to the postseason is exactly what the NBA hoped to create when it introduced the play-in tournament for this pandemic-stricken season. With the playoff hopes of such stars as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic at stake, there is more buzz than ever in these final two weeks. The Warriors find themselves right in the middle of the intrigue.
“These last 10 games are important for a lot of teams in the league,” center Kevon Looney said. “Everybody feels like each game is a must-win and each game feels like it’s the most important game of the season. So we have to approach it like that, we have to be sharp, and be really detailed.