The Golden State Warriors took a big step towards making history on Thursday night when they defeated the San Antonio Spurs, becoming just the second team to ever win 70 games. Now that Golden State has clinched the No.1 seed in the West, they have to decide whether or not they want to make even more history.
Winning their final three games of the regular season would give the Warriors the best regular-season record of all time, surpassing the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls by one victory. But during a long season in which Golden State’s No.1 goal is to win a second straight championship, the team might give up on the record and decide to ensure that they are well rested for the playoffs.
"We are going to talk about it tomorrow," head coach Steve Kerr said on Thursday night. "We've been putting it off for as long as we were able to, which was until we got the 1-seed. Now that we have that, I'm inclined to give some guys some rest if they need it, but I've sort of made a pact with the guys that if they are not banged up and they are not tired and if they want to go for this record or whatever then -- so we got to talk."
Before beating the Spurs, the Warriors had been showing signs that they needed to rest some of their top players. Golden State suffered two losses in three games, and Draymond Green admitted that the team wanted the regular season to end. Stephen Curry is coming off his worst month of the season, though it’s unlikely that fatigue was a major factor and he still averaged 27.6 points per game.
Giving Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green some time off could be helpful as the team prepares for another long playoff run. The three players have missed just six games combined, and they are averaging more minutes per game than they did a year ago.
Still, Kerr has done a good job of managing the playing time of his All-Stars. The three players average between 33.4 and 34.7 minutes per contest, all ranking outside of the top 20 in the NBA. Considering who the Warriors play on their remaining schedule, Kerr can scale back the minutes of Curry, Thompson and Green without resting them completely. Even with the team going full throttle this year, Kerr has been able to rest Curry completely in several fourth quarters because Golden State built such a big lead.
If the decision comes down to the players, there’s a good chance Golden State will do their best to break Chicago’s record.
“I think everything is gravy from this point for Coach Kerr, because [this is] all he wanted as the No. 1 seed," Green said on Thursday, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“I think (for) a lot of guys in the locker room, it’s not gravy. We put ourselves in position all year… when you think about it, we’re sitting here with three games left, needing all three to tie a record–(break the record).
“Let’s face it, we’ll probably never get to this point again. That’s why it’s only been done one time. I think most guys in the locker room are all-in and obviously we’ll figure that out this weekend. It’s no right or wrong answer. If guys need rest, then hey, take a rest. But if you want to go for it, we’re going for it.”
One of Golden State’s final three games comes against San Antonio, who might completely give up on the rest of their regular season. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has become known for benching his top players for entire games in order to prepare for the playoffs—he did it two weeks ago against the Oklahoma City Thunder—and that could happen multiple times over the next week.
With the Spurs already guaranteed to be the No.2 seed in the conference, there’s no need for the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker to play when San Antonio hosts Golden State on Sunday. The Warriors could win that game by playing their top stars, but resting them for much of the second half.
Two of Golden State’s final three games will come against the Memphis Grizzlies. Unlike the Spurs, the Grizzlies still have something to play for as they look to secure the No.5 seed in the West. They are one game in the loss column ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers, and Saturday’s contest in Memphis could be Golden State’s most difficult remaining game.
The Warriors, however, have easily taken care of the Grizzlies twice this year, even winning one game by 50 points. Depending on how Memphis and Portland play over the next few days, the Grizzlies could very well have nothing to play for in the regular season finale against Golden State, making it easier for the defending champs to win 73 games.
On Wednesday, FiveThirtyEight.com dropped Golden State's chances to break the Bulls' record at 13.4 percent, and 55.8 percent to tie the record. But those numbers would have to rise following the Warriors' Thursday win over the Spurs.
Prediction: The Warriors have been almost impossible to beat all season long, and it won’t get any easier for opponents when they have little to play for and Golden State is trying to make history. It sounds like the players want to set the record, and with just three games left on the schedule, Golden State should be able to finish the season without a loss while not jeopardizing their title hopes.