OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — It has been a season full of firsts and fun for the Golden State Warriors, rewriting the franchise record book and rediscovering what it means to be a winner.
A few milestones still remain — one for the season, and one for all time.
Both can be reached Friday night when the Warriors (58-13) visit Memphis (50-22) in a matchup of the Western Conference’s top teams. The Grizzlies are the only team Golden State has not beaten this season, and right now they’re standing in the Warriors’ way of matching the franchise record for wins.
“It’s an important game because this is a team that you’ll possibly see in the Western Conference playoffs or finals or whatever it will be,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said following Thursday’s practice in Oakland. “It’s definitely an important game. You definitely want to try to send a message. You also want to feel good about yourselves and continue to play well, most importantly.”
The Warriors are 8½ games ahead of the Grizzlies in the West and four games up on East-leading Atlanta (54-17). The Warriors also own the tiebreaker (record vs. opposite conference) over the Hawks should they finish with the same record.
Despite having homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs nearly locked up, Golden State still has some unfinished business.
The Grizzlies beat the Warriors 105-98 on Dec. 16 in Memphis, the only meeting between the teams this season. The Grizzlies’ victory snapped Golden State’s franchise-record 16-game winning streak.
The Warriors believe they’re a far better team now.
Center Andrew Bogut — the defensive stopper down low and an integral part of the interior passing game — and reserve forward David Lee sat out the first meeting with injuries. The offense has made major strides under new coach Steve Kerr since, most notably assists going up and turnovers going down.
“It’ll be a completely different look,” Green said.
The Warriors, as has been the case against most teams since surging to the top of the standings early this season, are expecting Memphis’ best shot.
The Grizzlies are coming off their most lopsided home loss of the season — a 111-89 defeat by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night — and trying to hold off Houston for the West’s No. 2 seed. Memphis always presents problems for the Warriors anyway, with center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph anchoring a wave of physicality inside.
The Grizzlies have won 12 of the last 14 against Golden State.
“You always want to go into these games and, not so much send a message, but make sure they know they’re going to get a fight the same way we know they’re going to fight us,” Bogut said. “We like these environments. They’re good tests for us. But I’ll say this now, if we win or lose: If we win, we haven’t won a championship. If we lose, we haven’t lost a championship.”
Whether they equal the achievement in Memphis, the Warriors are set to shatter the franchise record of 59 wins set in 1975-76 — the year after they won their only Bay Area championship. It also was the last time the Warriors won the Pacific Division, which they clinched this season in Tuesday’s win at Portland.
There already was a fresh division title banner hanging in Golden State’s practice facility Thursday. Of course, the Warriors have been racking up so many accolades this season that almost nobody seems to notice they’re on the cusp of reaching another franchise mark Friday night.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Kerr. “It’s been a great season. We’re having so much fun. You just look forward to coming to work every day and hanging out together and getting some physical work in and watching tape and trying to get better. If a milestone comes, we’ll take a moment to enjoy it and do the same thing the next day.”