OAKLAND, California – If anyone still doubted whether the Golden State Warriors were truly going to push for a record 73 wins instead of saving energy for the playoffs, that thought should now be put to rest for good.
Playing on the back end of a back-to-back on the road against a hungry team fighting for the playoffs, Stephen Curry played his most minutes since before Christmas, Draymond Green crashed hard to the floor in overtime and the Warriors (68-7) conceded nothing in a 103-96 win at Utah on Wednesday night that left them five wins away from breaking Chicago’s record of 72 wins with seven games left to play.
“It is something we want to do,” Green said. “We’ve spoken on this. It is no secret.”
After spending much of the season deflecting talk of breaking the mark set by the Bulls in 1995-96, the Warriors are now embracing it.
Never was that more apparent than in Utah, when Curry played more than 42 minutes for his most playing time since a double-overtime win in Boston on Dec. 11, Green played nearly 43 minutes and Klay Thompson played nearly 39. The combined 124 minutes for Golden State’s three biggest stars were their most in any game this season.
Coach Steve Kerr, a member on the Bulls team that set the record, was a latecomer to the cause. After stressing the importance of rest for much of the season, he recently changed his tune and said if the players wanted the record, he’d play them as long as they were healthy.
“Our team wants it,” Kerr said. “They’ve made it pretty clear, so what we’re doing is listening to them and trusting them that if they’re injured, they’re going to let us know. And if that’s the case, we’ll give them a rest. And if they feel like they’re perfectly capable of getting out there and playing and that’s what they want to do, then that’s what we’ll do.”
What once was a hypothetical question about whether the record was in reach has become reality in recent weeks as the players have sensed how close 73 wins really are.
“We realize we can make history and that helps because it keeps you focused every game,” Thompson said. “You don’t want to lose and get this far and not go for it. We have a young youthful team and a great mix of vets that know how to pace themselves. We put a lot on the young guys’ shoulders and go out there and perform every night and that’s great. We are 26 and younger so we can do it right now and give our vets a rest.”
For much of the season, the Warriors were fighting for their top regular-season goal of earning home-court advantage in the playoffs more than a record. With San Antonio nipping close behind, the Warriors could afford few slipups to remain the top seed.
But with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich resting many of his key players of late, the Warriors have a five-game lead with seven games to play, all but assuring them of home-court advantage. Kerr has not given his top players the same type of time off that his former coach Popovich has done with the Spurs.
“It doesn’t matter, to me, how he plays it,” Kerr said. “His team is a little older than ours, too. We are very aware of our guys and how they feel and if there is a chance to rest Shaun Livingston, Bogues (Andrew Bogut), Andre (Iguodala), then we would do that. … We have a core group of young guys that if I asked them to skip a game they wouldn’t be really thrilled with me right now.”
Making the decision slightly easier for Kerr is the fact that even with the increased intensity of the playoffs, the drawn-out postseason schedule will give the team plenty of rest.
In the 62 days between the end of last season and when the Warriors won the championship, they played just 21 games. Even if they get tested more and have longer series, the playoffs have no back-to-backs and often have multiple days off between games.
In contrast, Golden State has played 23 games in the past 41 days since the All-Star break with six sets of back-to-backs.
“If the playoffs were compressed, I probably would be more apt to rest guys,” Kerr said. “The fact is, once the first round gets under way, it’s like days of rest.”
With the regular season ending in less than two weeks, that time is coming up soon.