OAKLAND (AP) — The margin of error is gone.
If the Golden State Warriors want to break Chicago’s single-season wins record of 72, they must win their final four games starting with Thursday night’s showdown at home against San Antonio.
The bigger priority down the stretch is securing the top seed in the Western Conference, which can be done with a combination of two Warriors wins or Spurs losses, and getting their game back in top form for the start of the postseason next week.
With two losses in their past three home games, a recent uptick in turnovers and a loss of defensive intensity, the grinding NBA season is finally showing signs of taking its toll on the Warriors (69-9).
“It’s a miracle that we’ve gone this far without hitting a bump in the road,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “This is to be expected. Every team goes through it. It’s just probably surprising for people out there and maybe even our own guys because this season has maybe come too easy for us.”
The past weeks have gotten tougher with Tuesday night’s 124-117 overtime loss to Minnesota being Golden State’s fourth loss in the past month after falling just five times in the first four months of the season.
Despite that, the Warriors can break Chicago’s record of 72 wins set in 1995-96 by beating the Spurs on Thursday night, sweeping a weekend road trip to Memphis and San Antonio and then winning the season finale at home against the depleted Grizzlies next Wednesday.
“The record is great,” center Andrew Bogut said. “We’ll obviously have balloons and celebrate for a good five-minute period if we get it. Then you have a playoff series to win and a championship to try to win. In the grand scheme of things it’s small potatoes.”
The pressure of chasing the record has been on the Warriors ever since they opened the season by winning the first 24 games. Everywhere they go this season they have faced increased media attention, opponents excited for the opportunity to knock off the league’s top team and comparisons to the great teams of the past like those record-setting Bulls.
Draymond Green said the talk has been impossible to escape since it hits him every time he opens his phone. But reigning MVP Stephen Curry said the attention shouldn’t be viewed as a hindrance since many of the players have openly talked about wanting to set the mark.
“It can’t be an excuse that we put ourselves in this situation and now it’s draining us to finish,” Curry said. “I think we’re mature enough and have enough of an edge to get it done. We just have to figure it out.”
Possibly dampening the excitement for the two upcoming showdowns with the Spurs are questions about how seriously San Antonio will take the games. Coach Gregg Popovich frequently rests veterans like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan down the stretch and he has not said how he will approach these two contests.
The Warriors plan to go all out Thursday when they can clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory. Kerr said he doesn’t know how he will approach the final three games but he does want to give playing time to key reserves Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli, who both recently returned from injuries.
“The fact is they rest a lot of people but they need more rest than we do,” Kerr said. “Their core is older than ours. He’s been the master of this for a long time. He knows exactly what he’s doing with his team. We’re not too concerned about what they do. We’re just trying to play better ourselves.”
The Spurs are downplaying the upcoming games, saying a win at Oracle Arena on Thursday will not give them a psychological edge if the teams do meet again in the Western Conference finals.
“I don’t think about it like that, playoffs are a different game,” forward Kawhi Leonard said. “We don’t even know if we will see each other in the playoffs so we will just go out and try to make our team better going into the playoffs.”