Wednesday’s dominant win over New York marked the fifteenth game since the All-Star break which is the halfway point of the thirty game slate between the break and the end of the regular season. After ranking the thirty post-All Star contests in mid-February, this works as a point to evaluate this stretch and the team’s ability to make history over the final month of the regular season.
Purely on wins and losses, the Warriors have outperformed expectations and have strengthened their chances of making history. Losing Andre Iguodala for much of the remainder of the regular season makes this more challenging but the team needed to lose five or less after the break to get 73 wins and they fell twice.
The degree of difficulty makes their post-ASB run even more impressive. While only playing two of the five hardest contests on the board, the Warriors have knocked off four of the next five (6 through 10), meaning only three of their ten most challenging games still remain: #1 at San Antonio on Saturday, #4 at San Antonio in April and #8 hosting the Clippers next Wednesday. Andre missing time adds to the challenge of Friday’s game in Dallas but that happens with the passage of time and random chance, just as their home game against Atlanta ended up being without Stephen Curry.
Having seven of the ten toughest games (on paper) already complete indicates an easier final fifteen games, which is broadly true. Six of the ten “easiest” contests remain but the Warriors lost #30 to the Lakers and trailed by double digits at home in the second half against Phoenix in #27 and the team has only lost to one clear-cut playoff team (Dallas and Detroit are in battles for their 8-seeds) so that may not be a big help. Even though Memphis is missing Marc Gasol and possibly Mike Conley for their late-season games against the Warriors, they had a nice stretch recently with a skeleton crew.
Golden State also only has three back-to-backs left on the schedule. That’s the good news. The bad news is two of those tail ends are in San Antonio, a nice little present from the schedule makers, while the third is a tough game in Salt Lake City against the Jazz after hosting the Wizards the night before. Yeesh.
It is also worth noting that a few of the remaining games have changed due to injuries. Boston will likely be without their best forward (Jae Crowder) due to an ankle sprain, Jahlil Okafor is out for the season in Philadelphia and Blake Griffin will miss the final regular season Clippers/Warriors game either due to injury or suspension. Losing Iguodala hurts Golden State’s chances in each game he misses as well, as does still being without Festus Ezeli though Mo Speights has stepped up in his stead.
Right now, the Warriors are aiming for two different targets: the #1 seed in the West and Chicago’s 72-10 wins record. The Spurs continuing their strong play arguably helps the second (since the Dubs cannot let up) while clearly making the first more challenging. They are four games behind at the moment but the teams play three more times this season, twice in San Antonio. One of Steve Kerr’s goals should be to have #1 locked up before the final four games (two against San Antonio, two against Memphis) so Pop has a greater motivation to rest his key players. Popovich admitted before their game at Oracle earlier this season that being rested and ready for the playoffs was the team’s priority but making it an even clearer call can only help their chances of history. Beyond the Warriors on Saturday, San Antonio also has to face Portland and Toronto plus road games in Oklahoma City (on the tail end of a back-to-back) and Utah before that final stretch. Even a Golden State loss in San Antonio would not preclude clinching before their 4/7 game, though winning Saturday makes it a whole lot more reasonable.
Losing Iguodala for a while makes it challenging but the Warriors are well positioned to achieve their regular season goals. A four-game lead on the Spurs should be sufficient to weather any losses the Dubs take there but remember that Golden State has dominated elite competition so far this season. 73-9 will not be easy but potential pitfalls in the Clippers, Celtics and Grizzlies games have gotten less likely due to injuries to key players.