Steve Kerr

Warriors focus on playoff push in first practice after All-Star break

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SAN FRANCISCO – During the Warriors’ practice at Chase Center on Wednesday, coach Steve Kerr took a moment and posted the Western Conference standings up for his players to see.

One of the NBA’s hottest teams with an 8-2 mark over their final 10 games going into the All-Star break, Kerr wanted to make sure that his team was fully aware of what scenario it faces as Golden State prepares for what hopefully is a strong second-half push into the playoffs.

“Just to make sure they know what’s at stake,” Kerr said. “We’ve been on a good run, but we got to carry that forward. There’s no reason why we can’t keep winning and do what we did a year ago, which was climb up the standings and put ourselves in a favorable position for the playoffs.”

The Warriors currently reside in 10th place in the West, 1.5 games ahead of the Utah Jazz and 1.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers. Golden State has a chance to trim that gap more when it hosts Los Angeles on Thursday. The good news for the Warriors is that LeBron James already has been ruled out with an ankle injury.

Just getting into the postseason would be quite an achievement for the Warriors (27-26), considering all the ups and downs they went through during the first half of the 2023-24 NBA season.

But merely qualifying for the playoffs isn’t enough. While many have pegged them as a contender for the NBA play-in tournament, the Warriors have loftier goals and are confident they can attain them.

“We got that much confidence that we can beat any team no matter the seed in a seven-game series,” standout rookie Brandin Podziemski said. “We’re not really focused on 7 [seed], 8, 9, 10. We’re looking at No. 6 and No. 5.”

Earlier in the season, it seemed the Warriors were a long-shot to make the playoffs. Now, Golden State looks very much like a team capable of doing serious damage and making a deep run into the postseason.

If there’s any doubt, the Warriors can lean on the lessons they learned from the 2022-23 season. After scuffling for most of the campaign, Golden State closed out the regular season by going 15-8 over its final 23 games to secure the No. 6 spot in the West.

This year, they have 29 games to go before the playoffs, and Kerr is trying to emphasize the importance of each.

“The idea is to just put ourselves in the best position possible, whatever that means,” Kerr said. “There’s a lot of great teams in the West. Everybody’s kind of bunched together. But let’s just put our best foot forward and see where that takes us.

“I like where we are. The guys’ spirit is in the right place. I think we can make a push this way.”

If they can follow the pattern that they established right before the All-Star break, the Warriors easily can make a serious push to get into the postseason.

In the 10 games prior to the break, Golden State had the fourth-best offensive rating in the entire NBA at 120.9, not too far behind the Atlanta Hawks, who garnered a league-leading mark of 121.7 over that span.

Defensively, the Warriors’ 111.2 rating during that same stretch was sixth-best in the NBA.

“We’re playing at a very high level,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We just have to continue to do that. As we add more pieces, we’re going to have a very deep team. That’s what coach said. He was like, ‘When the game’s on the line, I don’t know who’s going to be out there. We have so many pieces on the floor.’

"So we all have to buy in, and if we buy in, we can win a championship. I think that’s on everyone’s mind, and I think that’s what everyone’s trying to do.”

The Warriors definitely are getting healthy at the right time.

Chris Paul, who has missed Golden State’s previous 18 games with a fractured left hand that required surgery, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. Kerr said that Paul wouldn’t play against the Lakers on Thursday, but it’s likely that the anchor of the Warriors’ second unit will be back soon.

Gary Payton II (illness) also could return shortly.

That alone should be encouraging to fans and to the Warriors’ coaching staff, which has had to mix and match lineups and rotations all season.

“He’s getting close,” Kerr said of Paul, who last played in a game on Jan. 5. “He’s feeling good. Played a lot over the All-Star break. Next step is for the training staff to get a feel for where he is conditioning-wise and just make sure every thing is set for him to be back out there.”

Regardless of who plays and who doesn’t, the message for the Warriors as they get ready for the post-break portion of their schedule is the same: The margin for error that they had earlier in the season is growing thinner with each game.

“The later you get and the more ground you gotta cover later in the season, it becomes tougher,” Podziemski said. “To get off to a good start early is super important just for that purpose. It’s a great chance to play well against some great teams.”

If the Warriors can do that, they should find themselves in a much better position should Kerr feel the need to point out the standings again.

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