NBC Sports

Warriors destined for eighth, will need help to rise higher

NBC Sports
Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore

Sixth place in the Western Conference was, 10 days ago for the Warriors, a distant island visible only by nautical telescope from their sinking ship. Now, it is close enough to see with routine binoculars.

Seventh place, the goal expressed most recently, is visible to the naked eye.

That doesn’t mean the Warriors will get to either, but seeing them makes it conceivable.

Sixth place is shared by the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, who meet Friday in Portland, with their season-series tie-breaker at stake. The winner takes sole possession of sixth, which is crucial insofar as the seventh-place finisher is shoved into the play-in tournament.

In a season in which the Warriors have been boxed in by their defective qualities, getting to seventh will require outside help and internal perfection. Getting to sixth will require even more of each.

At 34-33, the Warriors trail Portland and LA (both 37-29) by three-and-a-half games. A tiny opening exists mostly because each team is vulnerable.

The Lakers: After missing two months with a calf injury, Anthony Davis returned only to tweak an ankle and leave the game Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers with back spasms. LeBron James missed six weeks with an ankle injury, lasted two games before aggravating the injury and now hopes to return for the last three regular-season games. Dennis Schroder won’t be back until the final weekend of the regular season.

LA is a mess right now. After Portland, it’s back home to face the hot Phoenix Suns, the hotter New York Knicks and the speed-bump Houston Rockets. The Lakers finish on the road, at Indiana and New Orleans. Seventh place is not out of the question. At all.

 

The Blazers: Guard Norman Powell is limping on a tender knee but hopes to return Friday. Damian Lillard is playing through a foot contusion. Portland’s health is relatively good, but the end of the schedule is a beast: A back-to-back at Utah and Phoenix, followed by a home game against the Denver -- three teams destined to finish in the top half of the conference.

It’s altogether possible, even probable, that Golden State will face either the Lakers or the Blazers in the play-in tournament. These teams likely will fill seeds No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 -- though the Memphis Grizzlies, currently ninth, are only one-half game behind the Warriors.

Though the Warriors have their own health issues, their advantage over the competition is that their final six games are at home and they’ve already won the first one, a 118-97 lashing over the modestly skilled Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.

The Warriors will have picked up a half-game on the Lakers-Blazers loser by the time they return to Chase Center on Saturday for another game against OKC. The Warriors should prevail, rather easily.

The margin here is so small that they cannot afford another loss to a team outside the race. And not with a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back against the Jazz and Suns.

That’s where the internal perfection comes in. Playing as they did Thursday night was good enough to beat the Thunder but wouldn’t be competitive against the Jazz or Suns, the two teams vying for the overall No. 1 seed.

All three Warriors that met with media after the game mentioned one priority that could determine where they finish: Turnovers.

“Definitely taking care of the ball,” Kent Bazemore said.

“We kept our turnovers a little lower than usual tonight, and that’s something that we’re going to want to continue to see down the stretch,” said Mychal Mulder, who scored 25 points in 20 minutes off the bench.

“We went out there and executed,” Kevon Looney said, explaining the victory. “We didn't turn the ball over that much.”

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The Warriors committed 14 turnovers, a passable number, but too many were of the live-ball variety. OKC scored 18 points, nearly one-fifth of its total, off Golden State gifts. Such largesse would be lethal against Utah or Phoenix, and probably the last two opponents, New Orleans and Memphis.

To slide up to sixth, the Warriors probably have to end the season on a six-game win streak, a gargantuan task for a team that has won four in a row only once all season, with only one of those wins against a playoff team (the Nuggets).

To slide up to seventh, the Warriors probably have to go at least 5-1.

 

The history of the 2020-21 season would indicate they finish the homestand at 4-2. In which case they’d have 37 wins and eighth place would beckon. And they’d go to Portland or LA to play a game they’d much rather have at home.

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