With the calendar flipping to March and 20 games remaining on the schedule, the playoffs have arrived for the Warriors. Not officially, of course, but a playoff mentality has made its way to the defending champs.
As well it should, according to Stephen Curry.
“We have an understanding of what our potential is,” Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. “But the principles and the focus of what that means on a nightly basis . . . it should feel like the playoffs every night because we’re not going to win many games if it doesn’t.”
If Tuesday night is any indication, Curry will be returning in a few days to team on which fellow veterans Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are feeling the magnitude not only of each game but also each possession – and to a coaching staff already in postseason mode.
Coach Steve Kerr and his staff formulated a playoff-type defensive game plan, focused on Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, that the Warriors utilized in their comeback victory.
“I told the players in our walkthrough that this is a great game for us because this is kind of what the playoffs are about,” Kerr said after the 123-105 victory. “You got to figure out your opponent and maybe throw something different at them. And then have the poise to stay with it.”
Curry watched from courtside and came away hoping the Warriors, who have won three in a row, are adopting a playoff approach.
“It’s whatever you want to put behind it that gets us to raise our level of focus and execution,” he said. “Our ability to understand how to win games in a lot of different ways. That comes down to our defense. We have to be able to figure out some consistency there.”
Golden State’s defense on Tuesday was a tale of two halves, one that allowed 65 points on 50-percent shooting before halftime and only 40 points on 35.7-percent shooting afterward.
The deeper the game went, the more the Warriors leaned on the game plan. The result was – you’ve heard it before – great defense leading to easier offense.
“I know this coaching staff,” Draymond Green said Tuesday after the win. “I know when they put specific gameplans together it works. I’ve seen it work year after year, playoff run after playoff run. When they lock in and put a specific game plan together – we want to guard guys this way, we want to make this guy score and not let this guy (score). When they do that, it works.”
The Warriors woke up Wednesday morning in fifth place in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, who invade Chase Center on Thursday.
The West is, however, as tight as anyone can remember. As of Thursday morning, only five games in the loss column separate the fourth-place Phoenix Suns and the 13th-place Oklahoma City Thunder.
“This is probably the greatest year of [believing you can] pick a team in the top 10, and you can convince yourself why they can win the West – realistically,” Curry said. “That’s great for the league, great from a fan perspective and it’s great that there’s a lot of parity from the four-to-13 range in the standings.”
The Warriors are 11.5 games behind the conference-leading Denver Nuggets, but they are long past the days of chasing the overall No. 1 seed. They do, however, have a goal. If they play their best basketball and put together a strong finish, they might be able to meet it.
“On a nightly basis, every win and loss will mean something,” Curry said. “It helps us knowing we’ve had some struggles in the early part of the year trying to figure out some momentum.
“These last 20 games, there’s going to be a lot of weight on every game, on every play, to try to get greedy and see if we can get homecourt advantage. At a bare minimum, try and stay out of the play-in situation.”
For a team yet to climb more than two games over .500, it will take some fancy hoops to stay among the top six, much less rise into the top four and gain homecourt advantage in the first round.
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The hope is that good health will be with them. There is belief among the core of Klay Thompson, Green and Curry that the Warriors still have what it takes to make postseason noise.
There is no timetable for the return of Andrew Wiggins, but there is hope it will be sooner rather than later. Andre Iguodala is, according to sources, very close to a return. And there remains an outside chance that Gary Payton II will be able to suit up during the final weeks.
“I’m always confident when we’re at full strength just because we’ve proven we can do it,” Curry said. “We’ve done it before. Fully knowing that this team is different, but also knowing that we’ve been able to make the necessary adjustments and find the right combinations and rotations to make it work when it matters most.”
It's March and finding the right combinations and rotations matter a bunch. Not as much as April and beyond, there won’t be much of that without making run this month.