Warriors face week full of NBA play-in tournament implications

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Warriors' next week can have big impact on play-in tourney originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

No more scrimmages for the Warriors, though those sessions fulfilled their purpose, which was getting them to remember and apply the tedious fundamentals required to unveil the best of themselves.

Four games remain. Four teams coming into Chase Center. And none remotely resemble the Oklahoma City Thunder, a franchise that committed to its future months before the season began and casually left town Saturday night after losing two games by a combined 60 points.

From here on, every team the Warriors see likely will be playing with a real-time purpose.

The Utah Jazz on Monday, followed 24 hours later by the Phoenix Suns. Inasmuch as their records are ranked 1-2 atop the Western Conference and the NBA, there can’t be a more imposing task on consecutive nights.

“We're going to have to play a lot better,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “This was great to get a couple of home wins and build some momentum. But now we've got to really put it together against two great teams in a back-to-back.”

Utah (50-18) leads Phoenix (48-19) by 1.5 games in the race for the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs. If the Suns pull into a tie, they get the top seed after sweeping three regular-season games against the Jazz.

The Warriors (35-33) are playing their best basketball of the season. Steph Curry is rolling along at a MVP level. Draymond Green has been tremendous at both ends of the court. Despite a severely diminished roster, Golden State has won 11 of its last 16 games to go two over .500 for the first time since mid-March.

“Yeah, we just want to continue to build good habits and understanding how this team, with the guys that we have available, is going to win games,” Curry said. “And how we’re going to do it on both ends of the floor.” 

The Warriors like where they are, but they don’t love it. Sitting in eighth place, one-half game ahead of the ninth-place Grizzlies -- who come to San Francisco for the season finale on May 16 -- but 2.5 games in front of the 10th-place Spurs, they would love to rise to seventh.

That would bring the play-in game to Chase Center and put the Warriors one win away from taking possession of the No. 7 seed for the playoffs.

Getting to seventh, however, requires the Lakers to plummet. They’d have to lose four of their last five.

Calling this unrealistic is an understatement.

Even if, by chance, that were to happen, the Warriors would have to be perfect against the Jazz, the Suns, the Pelicans and the Grizzlies. Calling that unrealistic is fraction less of an understatement.

But if the Warriors can split the next two games, they’re in great position for taking the No. 8 seed and leaving Memphis and San Antonio to battle for the final two seeds. The Pelicans, in 11th place, are two games behind the Spurs with both teams having five games remaining.

It’s conceivable the Pelicans, with Zion Williamson (fractured finger) out indefinitely, will be eliminated by the time they get to Chase Center on Friday. Though a spoiler can’t be dismissed, that looks like the easiest of Golden State’s remaining games.

For now, it’s about seeking at least a split of the games against the Jazz and the Suns. 

“Very difficult circumstances, with both teams fighting for playoff positioning,” Kerr said. “So, there's not going to be any letdown from either of those opponents.

“But it's good for us. We've got to be ready for the playoffs ourselves, so we might as well face a couple of great teams and sharpen up.”

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Good for us? That’s a stretch. But it’s what the Warriors have.

And there is reason to believe a split is not inconceivable. The Warriors have beaten top-four teams in each conference. The 76ers, the Bucks, the Knicks, the Clippers, the Nuggets (twice) and, um, the Jazz.

If the Warriors go through the week with a winning record, that’ll be enough to put appropriate fear in the minds of their play-in opponent, home or away.

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