The fourth seed seed always was the absolute best-case scenario, according to Steph Curry and any Warriors fan with an optimistic view of the NBA's Western Conference. That floor was sealed off early this month when Golden State lost eight of 10 games in a three-week stretch.
The sixth seed was acknowledged as the more realistic goal. And, technically, it’s still in play.
“Technically” seems irrelevant after Golden State’s sloppy, aimless and generally dispassionate showing Tuesday night.
Staring at a game with direct standings ramifications, the Warriors responded with a 133-103 loss to the sixth-place Mavericks that was shocking in its early ineptitude and spinelessness. Allowing Dallas to go on a 28-0 run, spanning most of the first quarter and the first minute of the second, Golden State embraced humiliation.
“I’m the head coach and I did not have them ready to play -- clearly,” Steve Kerr said. “Biggest game of the year, and it was over before it started.”
With the season-series tie-breaker against the Mavericks on the line, the Warriors’ flame generated barely the slightest flicker. Against a team that played Monday night in Sacramento. At home. In front of 3,613 fans anticipating the highest level of competition.
The Warriors walked into Chase Center with an opportunity to move within 2.5 games of the No. 6 seed and walked out 4.5 games away from it.
“It just stings getting blown out,” Curry said. “Dropped the ball. Didn’t play well. Got blown out. Didn’t really have any life in the first quarter. It’s a tough one.
“We obviously want to play better, be in a situation where you’re competitive and rising to the level competition. And we didn’t do it.”
No, the Warriors looked every bit the team befitting their status. Mediocre, decent footing on the postseason ledge but close enough that games such as this can knock them off.
The Warriors trailed 36-12 after one quarter. They piled up more turnovers than field goals (12-8) in their least productive first half this season. Any notion of a halftime revival quickly was crushed when they allowed the Mavericks to run up 41 points in the third quarter, with Luka Doncic accounting for 23.
Kerr didn’t bother waiting until the end of the third to sit Draymond Green and Curry, subbing them out for the night with 1:26 left in the quarter.
With 16 turnovers (for 16 Mavericks points) and 31.1 percent shooting from the field through the first three quarters, the Warriors looked as if they hadn’t practiced in ages. They didn’t last week and they haven’t this week. With five players out of commission, the roster is down to nine healthy bodies.
Kerr has emphasized that the team, at this stage, needs to prioritize rest over practice time. His best player seems to agree.
“Every team is in the same situation,” said Curry, who scored a team-high 27 points in 30 minutes. “Some schedule, same protocols. Our experience is no different. Every team has to make the right calls on how to balance everything that’s thrown at you and be ready to play.
"Had a really good run as of late, found a way to manage that. Tonight was not that type of night and we have a four-game road trip to hopefully respond.”
The next four games are against sub-.500 teams in the Western Conference. At the Minnesota Timberwolves, on to the Houston Rockets, then two games on successive nights in New Orleans against the Pelicans, who are in 11th place.
If the Warriors couldn’t, on their court, with favorable conditions, beat the team they must supplant to get to No. 6, it’s irrational to conclude the Warriors deserve better than the Mavericks.
In seventh are the Portland Trail Blazers, who won the season series but has been skidding. In ninth place are the San Antonio Spurs, who keep finding ways to win. The Warriors won that season series against the Spurs but don’t much care for ninth place.
Eighth? With the inconsistency displayed throughout this season -- and barely showing up for the most important game -- No. 8 is the most realistic goal. The Memphis Grizzlies currently sit in that spot.
The Warriors split the first two games with the Grizzlies and meet them again in the May 16 season finale. At home. That game could determine seeding for both
Until then, the Warriors have to cope with the truth that comes with being 31-31. The No. 6 seed still is there, but it’s not going to wait for them to get good enough to earn it.