Warriors will regret it forever if they don't at least try for immortality


Imagine that, in mid-to-late June, we have an NBA champion, and — surprise, surprise! — it’s not the Golden State Warriors. It’s the Cavaliers or the Spurs or, heck, the Jazz. There will be some, undoubtedly, who will point to the excess strain put on the Ws during their chase to top the 1995-96 Bulls for NBA’s all-time best record, and the claim will be made that the focus on the record was the reason for their failure to repeat.

Let’s establish now, with the Warriors at 70 wins and two months to go before the title is decided, that such a claim should be called out for the baloney it is. This record is such a rare opportunity, and has little bearing on what happens in the coming months. The Warriors have pursued 73 wins all year, and coach Steve Kerr should keep pursuing the goal now that we’re 79 games in.

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The Warriors might be a bit mentally fatigued from the pressure of the record chase. That’s shown itself in the last three weeks, dating back to their defeat in San Antonio on March 19. Including that game, they’ve gone 8-3, and their margin of victory has been a pedestrian 6.7 points.

But the notion of resting players or pulling back on minutes here in the final few days of the season makes little sense. The Warriors have a chance to etch their names into NBA history, to establish one of the most impressive records in all sports. You can hardly blame Warriors players for wanting to lift themselves to that level, even if the price is some added psychological pressure and attention.

Listen to Draymond Green tell it like he always does. "I think everything is gravy from this point for Coach Kerr, because all he wanted was the No. 1 seed," the Warriors forward said Thursday. "I think (for) a lot of guys in the locker room, it’s not gravy. We put ourselves in position all year. ... So to get this far and kind of tank it and say, ‘Aw, never mind'? Let’s face it, we’ll probably never get to this point again. That’s why it’s only been done one time."

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If you can’t handle added psychological pressure and attention, you’re not going to win a championship anyway. These Warriors did that last year, and there’s no reason they won’t do that again this year, whether they finish with 70 or 72 or 73 wins.

There’s no evidence that suggests teams that winning too much in the regular season is a playoff disadvantage. The playoff success rate of the best teams in regular-season history is undeniable. There have been 17 NBA teams to finish with 65 wins or more, and 14 of them won championships.

One of those three, the 1972-73 Celtics, mostly failed to win a championship because John Havlicek had a nasty shoulder injury. The 2008-09 Cavaliers simply ran into a tougher team, the 62-win Celtics, in the conference finals. Only one completely choked—the 2006-07 Mavericks, who lost to No. 8 seed Golden State, a team that acquired Baron Davis and later finished the year on a 16-5 run.

If it’s rest and recovery you’re worried about, maybe you need a refresher on how the NBA playoffs work.

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Before the playoffs, the Warriors will get two days off, at least, after their finale next Wednesday. They’ll get a day off between Games 1 and 2, two days off after that, and another day off between Game 3 and 4. Last year, the Warriors swept their first-round series against New Orleans and wound up with a full seven-day break before Round 2 began. Finish the first round quickly, and there will be time to recharge then.

All year, the Warriors have kept players to relatively limited minutes to have their bodies fresh for the spring run. In doing so, they’ve limited physical wear-and-tear and still put themselves in position to seize the league’s most impressive record. There would be no sense in pulling back on that now.

There’s a chance that the Warriors could set the record but then lose the NBA championship, and there would be heartbreak aplenty if that were the case. But there’s also a chance that they could sit everybody for the next few days, get rested up ahead of the postseason, and still get beaten in the playoffs. Doing one does not guarantee the other.

It’s a different animal, of course, but the Colts of 2009 come to mind. That team was 14-0 and, rather than attempting to go undefeated, sat players in the final two games. The payoff was a Super Bowl drubbing at the hands of the Saints. Four years after that, lineman Jeff Saturday told the Indianapolis Star that he still wished management had tried to win the final two games, because the record would have been, “highest goal you can reach. And we were so close.”

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Do the Warriors want to leave these players with that sort of regret? Especially when there’s no certainty that the rest will yield wins?

The NBA championship is not going to be decided by how much rest the Warriors get in the next couple of days, or how fervently they push to set the league’s record for wins. If, eight weeks or so from now,  Golden State lo

ses to, say, the Spurs, in the conference final, it will be because San Antonio can match the Warriors’ depth and coach Gregg Popovich is as shrewd as Kerr at creating and covering for mismatches. It’ll be because the Spurs went out and added LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.

It won’t be because the Warriors tried too hard to win too many regular-season games. They’re used to fatigue and pressure already. It’ll be around all through the postseason. It always is. In the meantime, the Warriors would be well-advised to keep going for the record.