The Denver Nuggets and the Houston Rockets pushed them to the edge this season and that did cause occasional alarm in the city of champions. Who knew James Harden would score 30 points every night or that Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic would combine for nearly 40 a game?
Hey, things happen. But those who have followed the NBA’s Western Conference for the last give five years understand that sooner or later, the Golden State Warriors will figure it out.
That point was proven again Sunday when the Warriors clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference with a 27-point blowout of the Los Angeles Clippers. Stephen Curry scored 27, like he always seems to do.
It was a nostalgic night in Oakland, but it really had nothing to do with winning the pennant. The fans and players are used to that by now. The team said goodbye, at least for the regular season, to Oakland and its Oracle Center, which opened in 1966 and is the oldest facility in the league.
Next season, the Warriors, who known and affiliated with San Francisco until 1971, move back into town when they open the Chase Center.
“It was kind of strange, to be honest with you,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “It was a really nice moment. All of the fans stuck around, which was great, but we’re coming right back and playing Game 1 Saturday or Sunday. Hopefully, we’ll have another send-off in a grander manner.”
Landing the top seed in the West was important to the Warriors, even though they’ve been reluctant to admit it. The home court advantage is a powerful postseason weapon and the Nuggets, Rockets and Portland Trailblazers all have better home records than the Warriors (30-11) this season.
As tough as they are to beat at home, that will provide some comfort should the Rockets, Nuggets or Trailblazers show up in the conference finals and a seventh game rolls along.
What they likely will not have is homecourt in the NBA Finals. Both the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors have better records than the Dubs, should one of the top teams in the East make it there. But that’s a problem for another day. First things first.
Apparently, the first piece of business is making sure nobody gets hurt between now and the playoffs.
“We’re going to rest guys,” said Kerr said. “But we haven’t figured out exactly how we’re going to do it. The most likely thing we’ll do is take the probably eight guys who we want to rest, split them up four and four. Four of them play one night on the back-to-back, four of them play the other. That’s roughly what we’re thinking – we haven’t thought much more than that. But there’s no point in playing everybody both nights with risking injury, but I would like everybody to play one of the games just to get rhythm for the playoffs.”
This could be a historic postseason for the Warriors. No team since the Auerbach Celtics have made it to the Finals in five straight seasons. And no one since the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02) has won three straight league championships.
Who will they play in the first round? That’s TBA for now. It could be the Clippers, San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers are tied for seventh place with San Antonio with one game remaining on Wednesday against Utah. So it might be LA-Golden State, just not the LA many fans might have been waiting for.
If it’s the Clippers, Doc Rivers and his gang might have a few problems to work out. Golden State has won 16 of its last 18 against the Clippers and 15 of the last 17 at home.
“If you want to win, you’ve got to play somebody at some point. We’re not dodging,” Rivers said. “I just want to be healthy and playing great in the playoffs. Do we want to play the Warriors in the playoffs? Yes. Do we want to do it in the first round? Probably not, but you’ve got to take it when you get it.”
While the Warriors are celebrating, their happiness is likely exceeded in Orlando and Brooklyn. The perennial sad sacks of the East are droopy eyed no longer.
Not since Dwight Howard was around have the Magic made the postseason. But that seven-year drought is now over. And they have another center to thank – Nikola Vucevic.
“It’s an amazing feeling. Nobody knows what I’ve been through in the last six years here, just through all the losing, the struggling, the doubting,” Vucevic said. “It’s been very difficult for me at times. It paid off in a great way.”
The Nets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015 when they were 38-44, relied on Brook Lopez and Deron Williams and likely didn’t belong
“It means a lot, obviously to exceed expectations for a lot of us in here, to see how far we’ve come,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “It means a ton. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come for this organization.”