With 40 percent of the season left and the Warriors ninth in the Western Conference, coach Steve Kerr is not sweating the standings. Which is not to say he embraces the current status.
Kerr surely hopes for improvement over the final 29 games, which will be necessary to get into position to avoid the play-in tournament, involving seeds 7-10. And it remains a reasonable possibility.
“With the number of games that we have left, there’s been a little bit of separation within the conference,” Kerr said Monday after practice. “We’re still right in the thick of everything. There’s not a whole lot of reason to scour the schedule and try and figure out where we’re going to finish.”
One overriding reason is that evident that the NBA is in the midst of a such a fickle, erratic season that it’s pointless to get caught up in projections. Today’s fifth-place team is tomorrow’s ninth-place team. Moreover, today’s educated guess is tomorrow’s folly.
In addition to the usual injury factors – ask the Los Angeles Lakers about that one – the COVID-19 pandemic is altering the rosters and, therefore, the seasons of many teams and likely will continue to affect both schedule and standings.
The Warriors, who were doing a decent job of avoiding major injuries and staying clear of COVID-related disruptions, suddenly have been clobbered by both.
There is Stephen Curry’s bruised tailbone, sustained late in the game last Wednesday at Houston, causing him to miss both weekend games at Memphis. He didn’t practice Monday, will not play Tuesday against the 76ers and his status beyond that is uncertain.
Even before Curry dropped out of the lineup, the Warriors were hit early last week with James Wiseman and Eric Paschall both entering the NBA’s health and safety protocol and missing three games. Kevon Looney also entered protocol and missed one.
Looney has been cleared and will return Tuesday against the 76ers. It’s possible that Wiseman and Paschall also might be cleared and available Tuesday.
With a relatively forgiving schedule over the final seven-plus weeks, the Warriors could make a move. They’re 3.5 games out of the coveted No. 6 seed.
The Lakers, current third, won’t stay there because LeBron James will miss several weeks, at least, and there is no timetable for the return of Anthony Davis – though he’s not likely to return this month.
The Denver Nuggets, currently fifth, are dealing with injuries. The Portland Trail Blazers, currently sixth, are dealing with their eternal aversion to defense. The San Antonio Spurs, currently seventh, have a back-to-back with the Clippers this week, and future back-to-backs (over three days) at Denver and at Utah before finishing with a home back-to-back against the Phoenix Suns – who are only two games behind the first-place Utah Jazz.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in 10th place but no team in the league has heavier second-half schedule – courtesy of being hit hard by the effects of COVID in the first half.
So, while the Warriors haven’t won four in a row, this is a season where a five-game win streak can result in a jump of four or five places in the standings.
“It’s just a matter of going out and playing and trying to get better every day,” Kerr said. “It’ll all come out in the wash.”
If you detect a sense of futility, well, it’s because “the wash” in the 2020-21 NBA season is a mess. And will continue to be that.