The Warriors’ hierarchy of needs—after food, shelter, and of course, love—breaks down in this order:
- Another championship
- The No. 1 seed in the West
- Winning 73 games to set the NBA record
The big question right now, and over their final 11 games of the season, is precisely where resting players slots into that order. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes are all averaging more minutes per game and minutes overall than they did last year, in some cases significantly more, and a lot of that has been high-intensity gametime. In any normal situation, these players would be getting nights off to prepare them for the two-month playoff run. But this is not a normal situation. This is potential history.
But first, shaking those pesky Spurs.
“I’m more interested in securing the 1-seed and seeing how things go, but not with any risk of hurting anybody,” Steve Kerr said. “Could a couple of our guys use a little mental rest and take a night off? Probably. But I wouldn’t do that at the expense of losing games and possibly losing the 1-seed.”
After last night’s 114-98 win over the Clippers, the Warriors are four games up on San Antonio—and need to go 9-2 to top the 1995-96 Bulls’ 72-win mark. One of those is a lot closer than the other, and it’s after that that the tough decisions will have to be made.
Though Warriors players have been talking about 73 wins for a while, head coach Steve Kerr has not. Until now. Call it a superstition thing or a distraction thing, but Kerr’s pregame press conference was the first time he has publicly mentioned the record, and he said it was something worth going after.
“I think it’s a good question now. It was a good question then [when asked months ago]; it just wasn’t anything I was interested in addressing, because it was so early. But you’re right now, we’re right there. We’re 12 games away; we need to win 10 to set the record. That’s pretty enticing.”
That was before the win over L.A.—it’s just nine now, and entirely plausible. But is it worth it?
The calculus is simple, the quantities entirely unknown. Resting players down the stretch will almost certainly make it harder to reach 73 wins. (But how much harder?) Resting players may keep them fresher and make the Warriors more likely to win the title. (But how much more likely?) How important is the record? Is it worth the risk, however small, that it lessens the Warriors’ chances for a championship? And what of the opposite notion, raised by Steph Curry, that benching starters risks taking the team out of sync just when it ought to be in its optimal stride?
Kerr says he’ll deal with this after securing the top seed, but even then it’ll be up to the players, the people to whom the record matters the most.
“Yeah, this whole idea of setting a record does make things a little trickier,” Kerr said. “It’s the players who are setting a record. It’s not the organization. It’s the players who are doing it. So they will absolutely have some say in matters down the stretch in terms of how we approach everything.
“There will be conversations with the people involved,” Kerr said. “I’m not going to just take Steph or Draymond or Klay, or all three, out of the lineup without approaching them. What they’re doing is really significant. It’s special. And they should have some say in the matter. So we’ll see what happens.”
As someone with no stake in the Warriors’ success other than always wanting to see history made, I say: run ‘em into the ground. Go for 73. Go for 75! But that’s just one of many reasons I’m not in charge of a basketball team.