Hungry young Wolves make Warriors earn win
The eighth seed in the West hasn’t been locked up, but it hasn’t stopped the Warriors from preparing for the playoffs.
Outside of advanced scouting and matchup preparations that come with knowing who the Warriors will face in the first round of the postseason, head coach Steve Kerr is also using the final games of the season to get his team physically right.
Saturday’s contest against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves wasn’t a game that was on anybody’s radar, and the Warriors gain nothing from winning out through the rest of the season, having already assured themselves the best record in the league.
Even with almost nothing to play for, the Warriors shut down the Western Conference bottom-feeding Timberwolves 110-101 in Golden State’s 16th-straight home victory. Though it wasn’t as easy at they might have expected.
The Warriors had to deal with a youthful Minnesota team that despite their record and injuries played as if they were heading into the postseason themselves with Zach LaVine having a career-high scoring night.
These meaningless games have essentially given Golden State extra practice time. Competitive environments they can condition their bodies in, work on matchups and sure up a more playoff savvy rotation.
At practice Friday, Kerr told SFBay he wants to extend his starters’ minutes in the remaining games to build the stamina they’ll need in the playoffs:
“One of the things that’s going to happen in the playoffs is that Steph’s probably going to play 38 minutes, it’s hard to go from 25 to 38. So these last few games I’m trying to play them a little bit more. … It’s conditioning, and getting their bodies used to 35-38 in the cases of Steph and Klay.”
Kerr carried out his plan with the Splash Brothers, playing Curry and Klay Thompson 36-plus minutes each as they combined for 57 points.
Andrew Bogut is another starter Kerr wanted to give more minutes to, but in Saturday’s contest, Bogut racked up four fouls early on, limiting how much he was able to get on the court before fouling out in the final quarter.
It isn’t just conditioning the starters and getting them used to playing postseason minutes, but Kerr also wants to get his rotations perfected:
“It’s going to be some fine tuning and getting the rotations closer to what they’re going to look like in that first round. I haven’t gotten to that point yet. But that will be the case definitely in the last two games of the year. We’ll tighten up the rotations.”
The first half of Saturday’s game was slow and sloppy as Golden State allowed Andrew Wiggins to score 17 points and Minnesota to get to the free throw line 17 times.
Trying to stay focused through the games that have no bearing on the standings or playoff position has been admittedly difficult for the Warriors. They were able to fend off the Wolves and find a way to win, but Kerr said the Warriors lost their edge for a little bit which left an opening for Minnesota:
“Usually the result comes down to who is playing with an edge, playing hard and competing. When there is not a lot on the line human nature says you take a step back and the other team hits you in the mouth a couple times. That’s what happened tonight.”
The Warriors would lock in and pull ahead easily in the third quarter, holding Minnesota to just 14 points in the third quarter to take a 17-point lead on a buzzer-beating three from Curry.
The Timberwolves continued to fight back though and gave the Warriors another chance to practice something they are sure to see in the playoffs: a tight game in the final minutes.
With less than five minutes to play, Minnesota cut the Warriors lead to just one point as LaVine led the way with 20 of his 37 points scored in the fourth.
But with defense as their focus — complimented by Thompson scoring 11 of the Warriors’ final 21 points — Golden State earned its franchise-record 37th home-win of the season.
Curry said its important to take the last games of the year seriously and in order to that, goals have to be made and met:
“You have to go through each game and take it seriously…We had to fight for this one…To win 37 games at home right now and have an opportunity to potentially win 39 and go 39-2, that’s even more impressive. We want to accomplish that before we get to the playoffs.”
The Warriors, now 65-15, are the 17th team and ninth franchise in NBA history to win at least 65 games in a single season. They host the 54-26 Memphis Grizzlies Monday before closing out the season against the visiting 29-50 Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
The Warriors are just the second team in NBA history to compile multiple home winning streak of at least 16 games in the same season (16 currently, 19 earlier this season). … Stephen Curry scored 34 points on 11-of-21 shooting, hitting 5-of-11 from three-point range, marking the 71st consecutive game that Curry has hit a three, the second-longest such streak of his career. Curry extended his NBA record of three-pointers made in a single season to 281. … Play Thompson tallied 23 points on 10-of-25 shooting, converting on 3-of-9 from three. … Thompson and Curry became the only duo in NBA history to combine for 500 three-pointers in a single season, finishing the game with 507 triples. … Minnesota’s Zach LaVine scored a career-high 37 points, the third-highest scoring output by a Warriors opponent this season. LaVine’s 20 points in the fourth quarter are the most by a Warriors opponent in any quarter this season.