Last week was a monumental hurdle for the Golden State Warriors and the fans vying for them to set a new high water mark this season. Whispered excitement has crescendoed to general media murmurings as the Warriors have continued winning games at a pace unmatched in history this season. Players have commented, only when prompted to do so. Last week, coach Steve Kerr finally addressed the 73-win-sized elephant in the Warrior facility, and his answers bode well for those hoping to witness history: they have embraced the challenge and reality of 73 - 9.
Furthermore, and perhaps slightly troubling for a team likely to be challenged in the playoffs by another historically great team, Kerr said that the players will be the final arbiters of their own rest.
Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich has bowed out of the regular season arms race, as he sent home four of his five starters (and Manu Ginobili) home before playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in what would have been a key game to overcome, had the Spurs been gunning for the Warriors' seed. While the Warriors are still a handful of games away from a Western Conference clinch, the mathematics are favoring the Warriors more with every passing day.
The magic number of losses the Warriors still have left in their rainy day fund remains at just two after a perfect week. An 8 - 2 finish is necessary for 73 wins -- a winning rate that is over 10% lower than where they currently stand at 65 - 7.
It remains an upward battle, with matches against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on the second night of a back-to-back, and the infamous Memphis Grizzlies - San Antonio Spurs back-to-back roadie looming in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, no team has ever positioned themselves better after 72 games than the Warriors have this season.
Golden State Warriors (65 - 7): March 27, 2016 to April 2, 2016
One of the remaining two back-to-back and three-games-in-four-nights sets rears its ugly maw this week. In a miracle quirk of scheduling, the Warriors are (for once) not massively disadvantaged by rest, but instead favor from it against the beyond terrible 76ers and rock-solid Celtics.
|Date||Opponent||Opp. SRS||Opp. Rest (Days)||GSW Rest (Days)||2016 Series Record (Differential)|
|March 27||Philadelphia 76ers (H)||-10.19||0||1||1 - 0 (GSW +3)|
|March 29||Washington Wizards (H)||-0.94||1||1||1 - 0 (GSW +13)|
|March 30||Utah Jazz (A)||1.25||1||0||3 - 0 (GSW +42)|
|April 1||Boston Celtics (H)||3.29||0||1||1 - 0 (GSW +5)|
Trends of the week: The continued storyline, which was mentioned at length in last week's piece, is how little rest the Warriors are getting from the schedule. It's now been over three full weeks, dating back to March 3, since the Warriors were schedules multiple days off between games. It'll be another two weeks, on April 10 -- with the season virtually over with only one game left on the schedule, anyway -- for such a luxury to crop up again.
A message to Adam Silver and company: if Popavich and Kerr and Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer resting players irks you, cut the length of the season down by 15 or so games. Or trim the fat off of the bloated postseason and reduce the first round back down to a more reasonable best-of-five bout, and use those extra days saved to put in more rest periods in the NBA season.
In other news, that April 1 matchup against the Celtics is the final time the Warriors will see an Eastern Conference team in the regular season.
The toughest opponent of the week is the Utah Jazz. With apologies to coach Brad Stevens and his scrappy Celtics, the Warriors will be facing the Jazz in hostile territory with rest favoring the Jazz and the young team led by Gordon Hayward are currently participants in a four-team musical chairs competition for the final three playoff spots in the West. The imposing Derrick Favors - Rudy Gobert frontline is always a hassle, let alone after a red-eye flight.
That Wednesday matchup is also the most intriguing, as it's a potential preview of the Warriors' first round opponent. The Utah Jazz are the team that none of the West's best three teams would like to meet. They don't seem to have the requisite firepower to steal more than a game from the Warriors, Spurs, or Los Angeles Clippers -- but they have the muscle and the fight to bruise up an opponent over five games, something that no team looking to make a 20+ game run through the postseason wants to happen, let alone in the opening round.
Ideally, the Houston Rockets would fall from their precarious perch in seventh to the eight slot for the Warriors to play, while the Jazz slip up a notch for the Spurs to handle. To add to the intrigue, a Warriors' loss to the Jazz on Wednesday might do well in catalyzing such a standings shakeup. The Warriors don't have the prescience to specifically orchestrate such an upset and know for a fact that it would guarantee a first round meeting with the Rockets, but it does create a bit of a win-win scenario: win, and the Warriors are on their way towards 73 wins. Lose, and the Warriors aided in passing off the Jazz to another top-three team in the first round.
But I digress...
Miscellaneous notables: At the time of this writing (before the Warriors - Sixers matchup), the two teams combine to have 51.0% win percentage, meaning that the Warriors have been slightly more good than the Sixers have been bad; if that's not a testament to the Warriors' greatness, nothing is ... Oddly enough, David Lee moving on from the Celtics to the Mavericks meant he got his championship ring at Oracle precisely one week ahead of schedule ... Is Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. the most Harrison Barnes forward this side of Harrison Barnes? TS% .551 vs .547, TRB% 9.7 vs 8.4, AST% 8.3 vs 8.2, WS/48 .111 vs .113.
Chicago Bulls (60 - 7): March 24, 1996 to April 6, 1996
This edition of W.C.H. features two full weeks of 1996 Bulls action due to the exorbitant amounts of rest the schedule makers gave the Bulls over this time span. By the end of this stretch, they were 65 - 8, a game behind the Warriors' current position.
Their unexpected March 24 one-point loss to the expansion Raptors marks the beginning of a six-game winning streak. The remaining two losses will also be by a mere one point each.
|Date||Opponent||Opp. SRS||Opp. Rest (Days)||CHI Rest (Days)||1996 Series Record (Differential)|
|March 24||Toronto Raptors (A)||-7.20||1||2||3 - 1 (CHI +20)*|
|March 28||Atlanta Hawks (H)||1.29||1||3||4 - 0 (CHI +57)|
|March 30||Los Angeles Clippers (H)||-3.46||1||1||2 - 0 (CHI +27)|
|April 2||Miami Heat (A)||1.46||2||2||3 - 1 (CHI +39)|
|April 4||Miami Heat (H)||1.46||1||1||3 - 1 (CHI +39)|
|April 5||Charlotte Hornets (A)||-0.48||1||0||3 - 1 (CHI +71)|
*Indicates Bulls lost
For the third week in a row, the Warriors will face a tougher opponent in their slate of games than the Bulls will (using SRS as a proxy for holistic team strength, which is fallible). The Bulls played one of the eternally-interesting home-and-home sets against the Heat, which is something the Warriors will not do this season.
Miscellaneous notables: The Bulls have two more multiple-day breaks between games in these two surveyed weeks than the Warriors have in the month of March ... In their upset of the Bulls, the Raptors went seven players deep, with Damon Stoudamire and Tracy Murray playing 46 and 47 minutes; in 21 minutes Bulls reserve Steve Kerr posted 17 points as the Bulls had an Offensive Rating of 178 while he was on the court ... In the Bulls - Hawks matchup, Jordan scored only one point -- Reggie Jordan of the Hawks, that is.