Steve Kerr

Is rest the right call for Warriors' regular-season finale?

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SAN FRANCISCO – With each passing win in the final week of the 2023-24 NBA regular season, the door of opportunity went from cracking with light peeking through to being swung wide open for the Warriors. 

All for it to be slammed shut Friday night on their home court because of one catastrophic quarter. At least that’s how it felt after the Warriors’ 114-109 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans

Golden State’s comeback efforts were too steep of a mountain to climb. The Warriors outscored the Pelicans by 18 points between the first, third and fourth quarters. The Pelicans enjoying a team-wide NBA Jam moment from long distance, along with the Warriors being allergic to holding onto the ball, led to a second quarter where they were outscored by 23 points, 45-22. 

The loss dropped the Warriors back down to the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference going into Sunday’s regular-season finale. Which brings us to the question Steve Kerr, the rest of his coaching staff and director of sports medicine and performance Rick Celebrini must ask themselves: To rest or not to rest?

“Oh hell yeah,” Kerr said after Friday night’s loss when asked if he could rest some guys on Sunday.

The reality the Warriors now face is one where they need help from a hungry Pelicans team looking to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament and secure their spot in the playoffs, but also a 21-win Portland Trail Blazers team that is tied for the worst record in the West. 

Sunday will put an end to the regular season, and simultaneously burn the eyes and brain cells of everybody scoreboard watching and trying to figure out where each team ends up and who they’ll play next. Starting with their own situation, the Warriors play the 31-win Utah Jazz, a team that recently went through a 13-game losing streak and also has won two straight games on back-to-back days. The Warriors have to take care of business first, regardless of how everything else plays out. 

And that brings us to the help they’ll need. 

If the Warriors are to beat the Jazz, they’ll be rubbing a rabbit’s foot for good luck for outcomes out of their hands. That means turning into fans of the Pelicans and Blazers. 

The No. 9-seeded Los Angeles Lakers play the No. 6-seed Pelicans in New Orleans, a game that both teams will be giving their all until the final whistle. But the No. 8-seeded Sacramento Kings play the Blazers at Golden 1 Center in a game where only the home team might truly put their hearts into the final score. The Warriors would need to beat the Jazz, along with the Lakers and Kings to each lose for them to jump all the way to the No. 8 seed, a scenario Kerr understandably doesn’t seem to expect. 

“You prefer to stay at home, but if you look at what we’re facing it’s a gauntlet,” Kerr said. “You have to play two play-in games and if you can win those two you got Game 1 48 hours after that. I’m much more interested in our ability to be ready for next week, but we have to wait and see how everything shakes out.” 

Being the No. 9 or No. 10 seed equates to single elimination and needing to win two games to get out of the play-in and into the playoffs. In the chance the Warriors do reach the No. 8 seed, they would only need one win to go from the postseason to the playoffs. Again, Kerr understandably seems to expect the former over the latter. 

His players likely agree, too. Klay Thompson, after receiving a rest Thursday night in the Warriors’ win against the Blazers, played a team-high 38 minutes in Friday’s loss, scoring 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting. He could use another breather, and isn’t going to argue if that’s the case. 

“It’s not the worst thing in the world, considering we played a hectic schedule this last month with a ton of travel,” Thompson said. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing.” 

Thompson would be atop a power rankings of Warriors stars who very well could be subject to street clothes on Sunday. Draymond Green certainly can be part of that list too after what felt like four quarters of an Oklahoma Drill with Zion Williamson. Steph Curry persisted through what he called a “mild” rolled ankle in the fourth quarter Friday night, scoring 16 of his 33 points in the final seven-plus minutes. 

For as much as fans want to see No. 30 on the Chase Center hardwood at least one more time this season, don’t hold your breath. 

“We’ll make that decision tomorrow, or Sunday, whenever we talk about it,” a coy Curry said. 

The waiting and the guessing game of Sunday’s results can cause hindsight havoc for far too many. From top to bottom, the Warriors always have prioritized health. The juice isn’t always worth the squeeze, and the Warriors having a healthy puncher’s chance in the play-in and beyond is the only result that matters in Game 82.

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