SAN FRANCISCO — As the Golden State Warriors go through the final games of the regular season, they are operating with one very clear goal in mind: Finish in the top six in the Western Conference.
“We definitely want to stay out of the play-in tournament,” Stephen Curry said following the Warriors’ 120-112 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night. “You never know how that can go — a single game here or there.”
“That is dangerous,” Draymond Green added. “We’d much rather avoid that.”
After Friday night’s action, the Warriors currently sit in the sixth seed in the Western Conference, just a few percentage points behind the Phoenix Suns in fifth, however the Suns have the tiebreaker over the Warriors. Both Phoenix and Golden State are a half-game behind the LA Clippers in fourth and are a game-and-a-half up on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers in seventh and eighth, respectively.
The Warriors aren’t tracking the standings, though. And to some extent, it’s not worth it.
With how congested the standings are in the Western Conference, seeding will more than likely come down to the final handful of games of the season. Any shift in the standings won’t solely be dependent on one individual team’s wins, but how every single game throughout the league ends.
“We just try to win every game we play,” Green said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily, ‘Aw man, we can catch those guys.’ It’s a log jam. If you take care of business and win the games you’re supposed to — maybe one or two that you’re not supposed to win — you put yourself in a great position. That’s our goal.”
Golden State’s two most recent games had huge bearings on putting themselves in those positions. Their win against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday created a 2.5-game separation between the two teams. And with the Mavericks losing again on Friday, they’ve now fallen to 11th in the West.
The Warriors’ win against the 76ers was another important move to remain out of the play-in. They have another on Sunday against the Timberwolves.
Last week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Golden State has to approach each of their remaining games as though they were a playoff game. Green, who has admitted he has a hard time giving 100% for a game played in mid-March, said that it’s the time of year to turn performance levels up a notch, echoing Kerr’s message.
Their last two games showed signs of the level of play Golden State usually displays in the postseason.
“The mindset is always you’re trying to put together a solid run heading into the playoffs. Nobody wants to limo into the playoffs and have to turn it on,” Curry said. “We somewhat did that last year but you’d rather not have that kind of uncertainty going in. No matter how it pans out, you want to be firing on all cylinders.”
The Warriors have just seven games remaining in their regular-season schedule — four at home and three on the road. Golden State finally picked up back-to-back road wins on the same trip for the first time this season, but still, there is added pressure to take advantage of their four-game homestand.
Two of those games — Sunday against the Timberwolves and Tuesday against the New Orleans Pelicans — are against teams trying to make the play-in tournament or even better, the playoffs.
“It’s extremely important,” Jordan Poole said about needing to win their remaining home games. The Warriors also host Oklahoma City next week — another play-in-hungry team.
“With the dynamic and situation this year with our home and road wins and losses, we can’t give up too many home losses.”
According to Curry, no matter how you look at their final stretch of the season — whether it’s focusing on the standings race, the momentum needed to be built over the final seven games or how individuals want to take on their role, it all leads to the same mindset.
“It all leads to a sense of urgency to win the next game,” Curry said, “Because of the time of year we’re in and also what’s at stake, short term and long term.”