How Warriors' upcoming four-game stretch could impact playoff hopes


How Warriors’ upcoming four-game stretch could impact playoff hopes originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Not since January 2019, when they sent three players to the All-Star Game, including Kevin Durant, have the Warriors returned from a five-game road trip feeling as light as they did late Thursday night. They’re radiating belief, and this time it doesn’t feel hollow.

The Warriors came within a bucket of sweeping all five games but will gladly live with the 4-1 record they brought back to the Bay.

And now they will attempt, once again, to shed the collar of mediocrity and chase the goal that has been so elusive this season. Getting above .500, staying there and pushing to get, oh, 10 games above it.

“We had a great start to the season,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Gainbridge Fieldhouse after Golden State ended the trip with a 131-109 thrashing of the Indiana Pacers. “And then, obviously, things kind of went haywire.”

Their 6-2 start evaporated under the six-game losing streak that followed. The Warriors have, for a variety of reasons, been no better than ordinary since the second week of November.

And now they’ve won four of their last five of their last six games – with all victories by double digits. The Warriors, who had three 20-point (or more) wins in the first three months, have four in the last 16 days, punctuated by the always-difficult road back-to-back at Philadelphia and Indiana.

“This feels like the best version of us,” Kerr continued. “With the starting lineup playing the way they are, bringing guys off the bench who are giving great energy and effort and execution. It’s definitely a nice run that we’re on and we’ve got to keep carrying it forward.”

Four games remain before the Feb. 16-21 All-Star break. The Phoenix Suns come to Chase Center on Saturday, the Warriors go to Utah to face the Jazz on Monday, return home to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday and then fly back to Utah immediately afterward for another game against the Jazz.

To go into the break above .500, the Warriors would need to win at least three of the four games. It’s particularly ambitious because all three teams are above them in the Western Conference standings.

But winning three of four would put the Warriors at 27-26. Moreover, it would lift them above the playoff line, legitimize their resurgence and put them back on the radar of the NBA’s playoff teams.

Stephen Curry said he did not “know what the numbers look like in the standings,” and did not seem to want to know. Too soon. Too early. But the Warriors are in 11th place in the West, one percentage point behind the Jazz, whose status has them above the playoff line.

Yes, the Jazz, still in rebuilding mode – as reiterated by parting with valued veteran Kelly Olynyk at the trade deadline – have played slightly basketball better than Golden State.

“We got a long way to go to get to some security there,” Curry said of the standings. “Nobody’s looking too far ahead right now. You want to get to the All-Star break with a lot of momentum. If we can get that done, I like where we are.”

See, the Warriors can’t afford another relapse, another six-game losing streak or another 11-game stretch when they go 3-8. They’ve been there, but with 33 games remaining, there is time to overcome it.

To get into the play-in tournament, Golden State will need to finish a few games over .500. Climbing as high as sixth place, thereby avoiding the play-in, will require winning in the range of the mid-to-upper-40s.

Can the Warriors finish, say, 20-13? Or better? If the starting lineup stays relatively healthy, they can. They have the potential to do so.

“If everybody plays to their maximum ability, we’re there with any team in the league,” general manager Mike Dunleavy said after the trade deadline passed Thursday afternoon. “We’ve shown that, frankly, this year with the games we’ve been in. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to win those games in a lot of cases.

“But the train is leaving the station right now. We’ve got to get this thing going. I think everybody feels a sense of urgency.”

The 2018-19 Warriors reached the NBA Finals, their fifth in a row. They likely would have won if not for devastating injuries to Klay Thompson and Durant. That team knew what it was and knew, at full strength, it was a champion.

These Warriors? They’re simply hoping to maintain the togetherness and hunger that has allowed them to put teeth into their confidence.

That’s their best chance to get back into the playoff race and, this time, stay there.

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