For the first time in the last four years, the Golden State Warriors are in danger of not securing the No.1 seed in the Western Conference. The Houston Rockets maintained their half-game lead over the defending champions with a 105-92 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday, improving to 48-13.
Golden State has just as many victories as Houston following their 109-101 win over the Washington Wizards, but they trail the Rockets by one game in the loss column. Houston doesn’t appear ready to relinquish their lead atop the standings, having won 14 games in a row.
The defending champions have finished with the NBA’s best record in each of the last three years, and they’ll start the 2018 playoffs with the best four-year record of any team in league history. With the Rockets playing so well, Warriors’ shooting guard Klay Thompson has an idea regarding how Golden State can make sure they get the No.1 seed for a fourth consecutive season.
“We want to try to win every game going into the playoffs,” Thompson told reporters Wednesday night. “It might be unrealistic, but it would be nice to do that. We’re right on Houston’s heels. We got a very tight race right now. So we got to try to take the lead.”
When Curry was informed of Thompson’s idea, the two-time MVP seemed to think it was a reasonable goal.
“You gotta obviously stay in the moment, but we haven’t run off a long win streak in a while so that would be a nice feeling going into the playoffs if we could build that type of momentum,” Curry said.
Warriors have 20 games left. Klay Thompson said his goal is to run the table. Relayed Steph Curry that message: "We haven't run off a long win streak in awhile…" pic.twitter.com/t0uOhQ94nI
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 1, 2018
The notion that Golden State could run the table might sound laughable at first. As talented as the Warriors are, they’ve lost 14 times in their first 62 games. They’ve got 20 games left on the schedule, meaning Thompson and the Warriors are aiming for a 24-game winning streak—the team is 4-0 since the All-Star break.
But the Warriors have already proven that going 24-0 isn’t impossible. It’s something the team has already accomplished, starting the 2015-2016 season with 24 consecutive victories to set an NBA record. Golden State ended that season with an NBA record 73 wins.
Two years later, the Warriors are a better team, even if that’s not reflected in their regular-season record. The addition of Kevin Durant might give Golden State the greatest starting lineup of all time, and they’ve been just about impossible to beat in games that matter.
After going 67-15 in the 2016-2017 season, Golden State came one victory away from posting a perfect 16-0 playoff record, finally losing in Game 4 of the NBA Finals when LeBron James recorded a 31-point triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 40 points of his own.
Golden State finishes this season with a fairly soft schedule. Their opponents are much less daunting than the ones they breezed past in the playoffs a year ago. Less than half of their remaining 20 games will come against postseason teams, and some of their opponents are actively trying to lose so they can be in the top of the draft lottery.
Golden State has no more games with the Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors or Boston Celtics. They’ll face the Minnesota Timberwolves without Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard might miss both of their games against the San Antonio Spurs. Their toughest matchup might be their April 3 road matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, though Golden State just defeated Russell Westbrook and Co. by 32 points.
In between those games are eight total meetings with the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings, none of whom have more than 20 wins on the season. Golden State only has four road games scheduled against winning teams that aren’t currently without their best player because of an injury.
The Warriors dealt with injuries earlier this season. Curry missed 15 games, while both Durant and Draymond Green sat out eight games apiece. All four of Golden State’s All-Stars are healthy for the final stretch run.
Houston has been almost perfect with their best players on the court. When the Rockets’ starting lineup has included James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela, the team has gone 31-1. Houston went undefeated in February, winning by an average of 14 points per game.
Golden State has the roster to put together a similar run, especially with the way their superstars are playing. If Harden wasn’t having such a historic season, Curry and Durant would both be in the running to win the MVP award.
Curry and Durant have a chance to become the first pair of teammates to finish a season shooting 40 percent from three-point range, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Curry’s post-injury numbers have been nearly as impressive as the stats he put up in his unanimous MVP season, and Durant is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
Curry told reporters that the Warriors have to hold themselves to a higher standard in order to finish the season undefeated. The regular season hasn’t meant much to Golden State, who’ll be the overwhelming favorite in the playoffs, and they likely haven’t had a sense of urgency for a large portion of the year. It’s part of the reason why Steve Kerr let his players coach the team in a game against the Suns just prior to the All-Star break.
With the Rockets owning the No.1 seed and playing like a legitimate championship contender, the Warriors now have something to play for. That could be a major problem for whomever Golden State plays over the next six weeks.