Because no one expected the Timberwolves to beat the Warriors, and because no one expected the Celtics to beat the Warriors, and because no one expected the Lakers to beat the Warriors, this week was supposed to be a coronation for the best regular season team in NBA history. Cue the marching band and ESPN euphoria. Cue photos of a downcast Scottie Pippen and Oscar Robertson. Retweet the Kobe Bryant I told you to go for it. Instead, what seemed like an easy road to dismantle the Bulls 1995-96 glory mark of 72-10, some were even predicting 76 wins, is stuck in an unlikely place. It feels like a boat taking on water because of a leak once the boat hit a rock.
The Warriors may be one of the only playoff teams going with their starting five on the last day of the season. Their likely first round opponent, the Utah Jazz, playing 400 miles south on Wednesday, may also be playing their full compliment because they are in a fight for the 8th slot as they maneuver through the emotions of Kobe Bryant’s last game. The Warriors can spin it as they won’t be getting any more rest than the Jazz . But take ego out of it. Is it the smart thing to do to overemphasize a record and under-emphasize a title? Aren’t you pissing off the Basketball Gods?
The one and done title people, those who don’t repeat, you can count on the long list. History does. Let’s take the past 15 years. 2003 San Antonio Spurs. 2004 Detroit Pistons. 2005 San Antonio Spurs. 2006, Miami Heat. 2007 San Antonio Spurs. 2008 Boston Celtics. 2011 Dallas Mavericks. 2014 San Antonio Spurs.
The short list of back-to-back champions is Kobe-Lebron centric. 2000-02 Lakers. 2009-10 Lakers. 2012-13 Heat.
What list do the Warriors want to be on? The short list or the long list?
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is a nice guy, both on and off the court. That he slugged Michael Jordan during a Bulls practice is somewhat of a Kerr legendary don’t get on my wrong side example but it’s not who Kerr is as a man and former athlete. He listens. He assesses. He has the best interest of his team. His young guys want the record. His older guys don’t really care, they want the title. And so here Kerr is, trying to navigate this tightrope. If he rests some of his guys tomorrow, the first night of a back-to-back, to a team he once beat by 50, he is the bad guy. If he doesn’t rest them and the team goes full throttle and they get the record and they are applauded and cheered and revered but lose on their way to the Finals, or in the Finals, that one decision will be used as the smoking gun to convict Steve Kerr of malfeasance.
Damian Lillard told a Steve Kerr story. He said when Kerr was the All-Star coach he knew something personal about every single player and pre-game cited that information as a way of establishing rapport. It was an All-Star game, so did it really matter? To Kerr, who is a builder of relationships, yes. It did matter.
And that’s the double-bind here. Kerr has built relationships with his young guys that he wants to continue. He trusts them but he also sees what everyone else sees, and he knows that a trip through the playoffs is different when you are the champion. It’s harder. Kerr frequently talks about displeasing the basketball gods because you don’t play the right way, you are a little too arrogant.
The record is still in reach but Kerr needs to take the candy out the kids hands. He needs to put a minutes restriction in place tomorrow night at Memphis. It’s Memphis. Mike Conley isn’t playing. Marc Gasol isn’t playing. They are depending on Zach Randolph and Lance Stephenson. Let the Warriors subs play more minutes while the starters rest in the 4th quarter for the San Antonio game on Sunday. The record is theirs with two weekend night wins. No way, no how is Memphis winning at Oracle on Wednesday.
After this hell week, two more months hang over the Warriors heads. They have to get to the Finals. They have to get to the Finals. They have to win it. Otherwise, who cares that they got to 70? Or, 72? Or, 73?
photo via llananba