NBA Playoffs

How Warriors can bypass play-in tournament with season's final sprint

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When the NBA schedule resumes Thursday, the Warriors will have 23 games to climb from 10th place to sixth in the Western Conference, thereby earning an automatic playoff berth. It’s improbable yet conceivable.

Consider, after all, last season, which will be referenced later.

Getting there this season would require the Warriors to extend their recent surge, break their tendency to blow big leads and fully exploit a relatively soft schedule.

Do that, and Golden State has a reasonable chance of snagging the 21 or so victories needed to have chance at avoiding the NBA play-in tournament.

Here is a look at the Warriors' remaining schedule, with each game placed in one of four categories:

CATEGORY 1: Devastating Losses (exceedingly beatable teams)

Feb. 23 vs. Hornets: Charlotte is a bottom-five team unlikely to get much higher. This is on the dark side of a back-to-back set for the Warriors, but they can’t let the Hornets win at Chase Center.

Feb. 27 at Wizards: Washington (9-45) is worse at home (3-23) than on the road (6-22). Should be one of the easiest wins this season.

March 7 vs. Bulls: Chicago is sub-mediocre but dangerous. If the Warriors are serious about making Chase Center imposing, this must be a win.

March 9 vs. Spurs: Rebuilding San Antonio squad brings Victor Wembanyama to the Bay as part of his education. The Warriors shouldn’t even allow this to get interesting.

March 11 at Spurs: Like the Washington Wizards, the Spurs are bad all around but worse at home than on the road.

March 20 at Grizzlies: The Warriors absolutely owe it to themselves to get revenge for one of the most lamentable losses this season (Jan. 15, 116-107 in Memphis).

March 29 at Hornets: An overtime dud in Charlotte sent the Warriors reeling to five straight losses. A long memory can be motivational.

March 31 at Spurs: Fans in San Antonio are some of the most loyal in the league, and they’ve unleashed a few boos. Enough said.

April 4 at Rockets. Houston is inferior but capable of a scare. It’s night one of a back-to-back set, so it’s imperative the Warriors grab the W.

April 7 vs. Jazz: Utah is 17-10 at home, 9-20 on the road. This game will be at Chase. Warriors must take advantage.

April 11 at Trail Blazers: A rebuilding Portland team in the last week of the regular season. First night of a back-to-back set for the Warriors. A kiss from the schedule-maker.

April 14 vs. Jazz: Utah finishes its season in the worst possible place. The road. Warriors get one last smooch, and it’s a big one, from the schedule-maker.

CATEGORY 2: Probable Losses (Warriors likely to be clear underdog)

Feb. 29 at Knicks: The first and toughest night of a back-to-back set. New York is not expected to be at full health, but it has been very good at home this season. A Golden State triumph here would raise eyebrows.

March 24 at Timberwolves: The Warriors have lost nine of their last 11 games at Target Center, and some of those Ls were against an ordinary Minnesota team. These Timberwolves have been at or near the top of the West all season.

CATEGORY 3: Difficult Wins (Warriors will be severely tested)

March 1 at Raptors: Toronto’s rebuild is under way, but this game falling on the dark side of a back-to-back for Golden State makes it considerably more challenging.

March 3 at Celtics: Boston has the best home record in the NBA, which won’t bother the Warriors. They won an NBA Finals on that floor. Last game of a road trip. Nationally televised (ABC). How will they respond?

March 6 vs. Bucks: With Stephen Curry resting and Draymond Green suspended, the Warriors still stayed close before fading late on Jan. 13 in Milwaukee. Bucks are below .500 on the road. Is that vulnerable enough?

March 18 vs. Knicks: New York can play top-five hoops when healthy, which they should be by then. Coach Tom Thibodeaux has found a defense he loves, but his team is .500 (14-14) away from Madison Square Garden.

March 22 vs. Pacers: This has track-meet potential. If Tyrese Haliburton is on the floor, Golden State’s defense will need the best of Andrew Wiggins against Indiana. Defense is pivotal, and the Warriors have the advantage there.

March 26 at Heat: Trips to Miami can be tricky for all teams. It’s the first night of the usual Florida back-to-back, and the Heat also will be fighting to avoid the play-in tournament. The Warriors want to survive without bruises.

March 27 at Magic: The dark side of the back-to-back in a place where the Warriors, oddly, have not won since Dec. 1, 2017. They are aware of the ghosts and the stakes. It’s never easy in Orlando and won’t be this time.

Category 4: Crucial Win (teams above Warriors in the West)

Feb. 22 vs. Lakers: First game after the break. Opportunity to make a statement. The Warriors recall the Jan. 27 loss at Chase that ended with two LeBron James free throws sending them to a double-OT defeat. Can they even the season series with Los Angeles?

Feb. 25 vs. Nuggets: A game-winning 40-foot bank shot by Nikola Jokić on Jan. 4 makes this another revenge game for Golden State. Denver is the only top-four team in the West with a mediocre (15-14) road record.

March 13 at Mavericks: Could be pivotal, with both teams chasing a top-six seed. The Warriors have lost six of their last eight in Dallas. They’ll be trying to even the season series at 1-1.

March 16 at Lakers: Second of three games vs. LA in less than seven weeks. Both teams will be looking toward postseason tiebreakers. The Warriors have lost five of their last seven games at Staples/ Arena.

April 2 vs. Mavericks: Second of three games vs. Dallas in roughly three weeks. Warriors can only hope that being at home is an edge, and that they’ve closed the gap enough that head-to-head tiebreakers are in play.

April 5 at Mavericks: The Warriors hope head-to-head tiebreakers still are at stake, as they’re not likely to better the Mavs’ record within the conference. If both teams are healthy, it’s popcorn time.

April 9 at Lakers: Dogfight time. There is a possibility that tiebreakers will be on the line – with the question being whether it’s for a top-six seed or the play-in tournament. They could be playing for a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.

April 12 vs. Pelicans: New Orleans rolled into Chase last month and handed the Warriors a 141-105 loss, the worst home loss under coach Steve Kerr, who took over in 2014. The Warriors surely hope this is a game that matters.

The Warriors’ best chance of beating the odds, getting 21 wins and rising to a top-six seed – which is their goal – is to go at least 12-2 in the first two categories and at least 9-6 in the last two.

Before relegating the Warriors to the play-in tournament, consider their 19-5 finish last season that allowed them to rise from ninth in the West (at 29-29) on Feb. 21, 2023, to a No. 6 seed (at 48-34) for the playoffs.

It will take significant fortitude and consistent finishing ability for the Warriors to repeat such an impressive closing run.

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