The Warriors opened the season expressing three goals, only one of which is very tangible: Make the playoffs comfortably enough to avoid the play-in tournament.
That means no lower than a No. 6 seed.
Asked Tuesday if that remained the goal, Warriors coach Steve Kerr reiterated it: “Oh, hell yeah.”
To bypass the play-in tournament involving seeds 7-through-10, they’ll have to get appreciably better. And they know it.
“We just want to not be in the play-in situation,” Stephen Curry said. “That would be helpful. But we want the best seeding possible. Every win matters. Every game matters.”
That’s absolutely true as the Warriors (19-16, eighth in the Western Conference) close out the first half of the season Wednesday night in Portland and Thursday night in Phoenix. It’s a brutal back-to-back set with potentially severe consequences.
If the Warriors win both games and rise to 20-15, they go five over .500 for the first time this season, move up as high as fifth in the standings and go into the All-Star break with a semblance of momentum. They might even fantasize about where they could land in May.
“You want to be as high as possible,” Curry said. “Probably the best-case scenario with where we are right now, maybe we can sneak into the four-seed. That would be amazing.”
Amazing? How about incredible?
A split of the next two games is realistic but unsatisfying insofar as the Warriors would reach the break at 20-17, three games over .500.
If the Warriors drop both games, which is conceivable, the difficulty of a second-half climb to No. 6 requires them to play considerably better than they did in the first half.
As in 22-13, nine games over .500. A 41-31 record might be good enough for the No. 6 seed.
Getting to the No. 4 seed, however, might require something like a 25-10 second half. That would be miraculous.
Consider what lies immediately ahead: Portland, five over .500; Phoenix, 11 over .500; the Clippers, 12 over .500; and the Lakers, 13 over .500. An 0-5 stretch, leaving the Warriors at 19-21 on March 16, would be devastating. Winning three would be impressive, two would be satisfactory.
Consider that the rest of the schedule is pretty loaded. Two games against the 76ers, one game against the Bucks, trips to Miami, Toronto and Boston.
Let’s say the Warriors go 7-5 over their 12 remaining games with Eastern Conference teams. It’s doable, but not if they give away games, as they did last month in Orlando and Charlotte.
For the Warriors, the best thing about the second-half schedule is 23 games are against Western Conference opponents. They’re in position to decide their fate.
Most of those 23 games are head-to-head with teams likely to fall into the 4-10 range. Three games against the Grizzlies, three against the Pelicans, two each against the Nuggets and Suns. One more against the Jazz. The Thunder and the Kings, each of whom the Warriors face twice, are lurking just outside that level.
Keep in mind that these teams relish chances to remind the Warriors they no longer run the league. That’s particularly true of Phoenix and Memphis, but also the Nuggets and Pelicans.
It’s going to take about 40 wins to reach the No. 6 seed. With Utah and the two Los Angeles teams on course to win 50 or so games, getting to No. 4 means high mid- to high-40s.
The 6-seed is within range, but only if the Warriors get better on the road, where their 7-10 record is 11th-best in the West. And even then, they would need to become more consistent at closing out games.