The 2020-21 NBA season is in the home stretch and the Warriors still look locked in to the Western Conference play-in tournament. But now Golden State has the upper hand when it comes to making the No. 7/No. 8 seed game, which would put the team in a double elimination situation instead of a single elimination with the No. 9/No. 10 seed game.
The Warriors have teetered near the .500 mark for the last three weeks and now are 34-33 following Thursday night’s solid 118-97 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. They leapfrogged the Memphis Grizzlies (33-33) by a half-game for the No. 8 seed in the conference after the Griz lost a 111-97 road game to the lowly Detroit Pistons hours earlier.
With five games left for the Warriors and six games remaining for the Grizzlies, you can count on the Warriors to do some scoreboard watching.
“I think we’re all pretty tuned in,” guard Mychal Mulder said after dropping 22 points Thursday. “We know where teams are at. So I think that’s something that we’re paying attention to, but at the end of the day, the first and foremost thing, we have to pay attention to is our performance.”
Mathematically, the No. 5 seed Dallas Mavericks (38-28), No. 6 Los Angeles Lakers (37-29) and No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers (37-29) are still within reach. Securing the No. 6 seed to avoid the play-in tournament would be ideal but don’t hold your breath if you’re a Warriors fan. The same goes for the other three teams, which would rather rest up and play a seven-game series instead of the crapshoot play-in tournament.
The Warriors are short-handed without James Wiseman and a timeline on Eric Paschall’s return is still uncertain, but they are holding out hope Kelly Oubre Jr. (left wrist avulsion fracture and ligament tear) will return in time for the postseason run.
But once the Warriors are in, who is going to want to face Playoff Steph? Especially if he beats out Bradley Beal to be the 2020-21 NBA scoring champ and has a chance at a fourth championship -- however so slim. Ditto for Draymond Green, who always seems to ramp up his play in the postseason.
On the flipside, the four teams trailing the Warriors in the standings are still within mathematical striking distance: the No. 9 Grizzlies, No. 10 San Antonio Spurs (31-34), No. 11 New Orleans Pelicans (30-36) and No. 12 Kings (29-37).
While the Kings and Pelicans are behind the eight ball and likely will be eliminated, the Warriors are more concerned about staying in the No. 7/No. 8 game for now. The dream would be to sneak in as the No. 6 seed at this point, but it seems unlikely.
Thursday’s victory was a solid way to start the season-ending six-game homestand, which continues Saturday with another matchup against the Thunder. Then the Warriors will host the West’s top two teams, the Utah Jazz (48-18) and the Phoenix Suns (47-19).
The intensity is about to turn up at Chase Center.