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Here’s where the Warriors are now: 10th place and in March Madness mode



Here's where the Warriors are now: 10th place and in March Madness mode

SAN FRANCISCO – The Golden State Warriors are in the thick of the Western Conference Play-In Tournament and need two wins to reach the actual playoffs. A loss this week brings them closer to the inevitable end of their era.

That’s the anticlimactic conclusion of 82 games: number 10. And their latest twist is that they play well with their backs against the wall.

It’s true. This team’s best players have had epic postseason triumphs, responding to some of the limits they’ve been pushed to. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney – they’ve earned credibility in this situation.

Yet after 82 games, it’s also clear that the must-win boost is just the only remaining hope to salvage this season. While it is based on their history of encounters, it is also the last remaining juice with which to baste this jive turkey of a season.

This is where they are now.

“It just feels like we have to win,” Green said Sunday after watching the Warriors beat the Utah Jazz 123-116 in a black tracksuit and green cement Jordan 3s. “But it is exciting. You know, it’s do or die. Probably feels more NCAA Tournament-ish. Give you that feeling. … We just have to start winning.”

Legacies built in June don’t feel good in March Madness.

It’s hard to find the confidence that they can pull this off, yet it would make perfect sense if they did. Welcome to the middle of the Warriors. They always give you a reason to believe they can make it, tempered by evidence that those days are over. They are still good enough to beat almost any opponent, especially a flawed one. At the same time, they are not good enough to summon their best at will, and less often they can overcome the opponent’s best.

The Warriors could lose to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, and that would be an outcome that contains nothing new. If they were to so unceremoniously exit this season, along with the Chicago Bulls or Atlanta Hawks, shrouded in mediocrity, it would be unworthy of their resume, but certainly fitting for this particular campaign. Of course, they could also boat race the Kings, outdoing their younger brothers up north, just like last season, all in the name of nostalgia.

With this team you just don’t know.

But what we do know, what the expanded NBA season makes clear, is that they will end this season further from their goal than when it started. The only way to change that reality now is to make the playoffs worthy of their belief.

A year ago, when the then-defending champion Warriors finished as the No. 6 seed and had to go to Sacramento for Games 1 and 7, That was considered a bad season. And when the Warriors were ultimately ousted in the second round, it was anomalous to go home in May after six consecutive NBA Finals trips in years when Curry, Green and Thompson were healthy.

“It’s different, but something you have to embrace,” Thompson said. “We have a chance at it. It’s all you can ask for. We have put ourselves in a position to achieve success along the way. We’ve been playing really well on the road, especially lately. It’s obviously different than 2022. But whatever. It’s still basketball. We have a lot of experience to lean on.”

The pervasive theme, which reverberated through the halls of Arena after their Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in last season’s playoffs, was how they had maximized their roster – a double message of how close they were , finishing among the top four in the West, and that they needed more to get there.

They came into this season feeling like they added what they needed. They traded for Paul; drafted two productive rookies, Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis; and freed up rotation space for budding star Jonathan Kuminga.

Additionally, Curry played 74 games, his most since 2016-17. Thompson played 77 games, the most since returning from back-to-back season injuries. Wiggins played 71 games, after just 37 last season.

It resulted in two more victories.

The result is their lowest finish in the Western Conference since the injury-plagued 2019-20 season. This is where they are now.

The story is not complete. They could change the story. They could win back-to-back road games to reach the playoffs – in Sacramento and at the loser of the Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans. They could beat the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder, the top seed in the West and considered the most vulnerable because of their youth. Such an upset would put the Warriors in a series against the Los Angeles Clippers or Dallas Mavericks. While the Warriors would be the underdogs, it’s not surprising to imagine that. Dallas has been one of the best teams since the All-Star break and the Clippers are at the top of their roster. But both teams have flaws. Winning that series would put the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

See how easy it is? To confuse what is possible with what is probable. To apply past greatness into current paradigms. To rationalize a better existence for these Warriors.

The experienced Warriors say they play well with their backs against the wall. We’ll soon find out if that continues in the do-or-die Play-In tournament. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

As coach Steve Kerr claims, this is a better team than the Warriors put together last season. Still, they lost ground in their pursuit of a fifth championship as the conference’s best made greater progress than Golden State. Nine teams in the West are better than these Warriors. Nine. That’s a shocking conclusion for a team with so much greatness.

This entire season, the Warriors have expected and promised to find their way. Ultimately, history proclaimed, they would end up somewhere among the contenders, where their resumes suggested they belonged. But this season was a sign of delayed gratification.

They never resolved the close-game battle that seemed to be their wheelhouse. They never got over their home problems, one of the most puzzling elements of the season. They never found their way to the sixth seed on the conference ladder.

They eventually found a step further and went from age 25 to 12 after January. But when they got the chance to grab No. 8, the final conquest of the regular season, the Warriors confirmed their woes were unconquered. They lost another close game, at home, with the stakes on the line, to a beatable New Orleans team.

It would indicate that an upgrade is needed somewhere, a major one. The other option, which is certainly being offered to owner Joe Lacob by someone fiscally responsible, is for them to cut costs and regroup. Instead of chasing his shadow, end the era now.

One more run could change that. Another Warriors-esque kick could prove they are just a few adjustments away from returning. Of course it is possible. It’s curry. It’s green. It’s Thompson. Odds be damned.

Their backs are against the wall. It’s do or die. Win or go home. They were built for this March Madness style setup. Right, Klay?

“I never played in that. I can’t agree with that,” said Thompson, a Washington state product, as he ended the interview by walking away. He walked a few steps before shouting an addendum. ‘The NIT does. That’s the same format.”

This is where they are now.

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(Top photo of Klay Thompson during Friday’s game against the Pelicans: Kavin Mistry/Getty Images)