With the end of the NBA regular season in sight and my Golden State Warriors the (arguable) favorite to repeating as champs, I felt it was time to grace the MBP page with a post on my two favorite topics: NBA Basketball and the Golden State Warriors.
After last night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the likelihood (according to FiveThiryEight’s website) of the Warriors breaking the all-time record for regular season wins has dropped to 13.4%. With that in mind, it might be time for the team to move on from the idea that they should push for every game and start thinking about making sure the team is in the best condition for the playoffs. Here are five reasons 73 wins might not be worth going for.
1 – The most boring reason is the obvious: freak injuries. I don’t think physical fatigue is as much of an issue with this team as with others. Their best players average less than 35 minutes a game and are on the younger side of 27. But you look at a few instances from earlier in the season: Klay’s ankle sprain, Harrison Barnes ankle sprain, Iggy’s ankle sprain – these things happen not necessarily because of fatigue but from the sheer fact of being on the court. If they can lock up home court with even two games left, they can either dial back the playing time for the starters (assuming they refuse rest) or rest them completely.
2 – As defending champs, the Warriors already get the best shot from every team. Whether it’s home or away, these games get circled on opposing team calendars because this is your chance to take down the best. You don’t get up for the second night of a back-to-back game on the road – unless it’s the Warriors. This effect is magnified by the pursuit of the record. No team wants to be the team that helps them break the record. The mental fatigue that is accumulated from playing every team’s best game, every night, it’s worth trying to avoid if they can lock up home court.
3 – Speaking of mental fatigue, as the Warriors have gotten closer to the heralded 73 wins, they have been more prone to hesitation and poor play. The number is right there in their faces and you can see how it affects their decision making on the court. During last night’s T’Wolves game, you could see Steph Curry hesitate on a few of his shots which, earlier in the season, just didn’t happen. A great example was when Karl Anthony Towns had switched on him to end the half. He got himself a good look in an iso situation but instead of firing away, he reset. This led to a contested jumper that, normally, he would have drained had he been more aggressive. These little moments create small two or three point swings that end up costing the team later in the game. (Sidenote: this is a different clip but KAT’s defense on Curry during this possession should scare the rest of the league – he is going to be a beast).
4 – Increased pressure in the playoffs. This is a team that is at its best when they play fast and loose. If they happen to win out and get to 73 wins, then I worry about the team tightening up even more in the postseason. In any other year, I think they feel confident that they can tear through the playoffs and emerge as victors. But with the San Antonio Spurs, also on a near 70-win pace in the West, the pressure will ratchet up and provide additional, unneeded scrutiny on a team that has been dealing with it for the eighteen months. There is no point in letting the Spurs play with house money and the silver lining of not having the record is that they can go into the probably Western Conference Finals against Tim Duncan and co. with clearer heads.
5 – Prioritizing a repeat over the record. If it sounds like you hear this all the time, you’re right. But it needs to be said that if they break the record at the cost of being ready for the playoffs, then it’s all for naught. They have already made history by winning 67+ games in back-to-back seasons. If you focus on the repeat, years from now no one is going to be talking about their failure to win 73 games; they’ll talk about how they dominated the league for two (or more?) straight seasons and (potentially) knocked off another historic juggernaut in the Spurs.
Now these are all the logical reasons for not pushing for the record. Making the decision to rest is a smart decision driven by objective and analytical thinking. And who knows if they can even accomplish the feat when they have to go 4-0 to close the season (two of them against the Spurs). And how crazy is it that we’re questioning this team’s ability to win four in a row?
For the record (no pun intended), I’m 100% behind them trying to win out. I think shying away from the moment could potentially hurt their psyche going into the playoffs more than just missing. This is not a team that backs away from a challenge. So break that record. How often do teams get a chance to make history?