NBA Playoffs

Warriors' approach to final week comes down to tonight vs. Lakers

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Coming off a 118-110 win Sunday night against the Utah Jazz – losers of 12 straight games and only three wins in the last two months – which was more dominant than the score suggested, the Warriors’ youngest player made the mindset of a locker room filled with champions clear as he reaches the end of his first regular NBA season and begins his first race for a ring.

"It's control what we can control, and that's going 4-0,” Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski said to reporters at Chase Center. “Obviously we have a chance to play the Lakers and the Pelicans, who are ahead of us, and I believe the Pelicans play the Kings as well. If we can control what we can control and go 4-0, that puts us in pretty good shape to get above that 10-seed."

The Warriors already are locked into a top-10 seed in the Western Conference, an accomplishment that earns a silent fist pump of celebration for a franchise that has been the gold standard of the NBA the past decade. Preseason expectations haven’t been met, but the door still is slightly open for greater opportunities, beginning Tuesday night in Los Angeles against the team that sent them home last year in the same building and ended their season two years prior in the NBA Play-In Tournament.

Timing is on the Warriors’ side, too.

Golden State has won seven of its past eight games, including a recent six-game win streak and look to have a healthy squad for the final week of the regular season. Steph Curry will return after missing Sunday’s win in what essentially was a rest day. Jonathan Kuminga returned Sunday from a six-game absence to left knee tendinitis and put up a 21-point, 10-rebound showing on 9-of-11 shooting. Andrew Wiggins (left ankle sprain) is listed as probable after missing the previous two games, and Gary Payton (left ankle impingement) also is probable.

How the Warriors approach this final week very well could be determined by the final outcome at Arena with a full-squad only missing Dario Saric, who will be sidelined for an 11th straight game to a right knee issue.

If the Warriors are to take down the Lakers, the West’s current No. 9 seed, and follow that with three more victories to cap off the week, they’re guaranteed to finish ahead of the Lakers by beating them three out of four times. The Warriors’ remaining three games are against Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Utah – two teams they should handle with relative ease, and the current No. 7 seed that shares the same record as the Phoenix Suns.

All three of the Warriors, Pelicans and Sacramento Kings still have games left against the ping-pong-ball-hunting Blazers. The Lakers, along with games against the Warriors and Pelicans, have a date with the 27-win Memphis Grizzlies sandwiched in. The No. 8-seeded Kings, who are without Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter, still must face the Oklahoma City Thunder (one game behind the No. 1 seed), plus the Pelicans and Suns, two teams fighting to avoid the play-in, before their game against the Blazers.

The Pelicans are in Portland on Tuesday night, but then travel to Sacramento and San Francisco before ending against the Lakers.

Then there are the Suns, whose final week entails a back-to-back against the Clippers – first in Phoenix and then in LA – a Friday night road game in Sacramento and ends in Minnesota to play the Timberwolves, who enter the day tied as the conference’s top seed.

"Oh yeah, we're definitely a better team,” Steve Kerr said Sunday when asked about these Warriors compared to last season. “Better two-way basketball. Better connection, better chemistry. There's a much better vibe with this team. So I still believe firmly we can do something special.

“Obviously it's going to be a lot harder than it normally would. We're going to have to win at least one – probably two – play-in games and that's not easy, but if we can get a chance I like this group's chances."

The Warriors are one win away from tying their 2022-23 regular-season total when they finished as the No. 6 seed before beating the Kings in the first round and losing to the Lakers in the second over six games. A Tuesday night victory ensures them of being at least as good as last season in terms of the win column, gets them that much closer to needing one play-in win as opposed to two and should have a near full-healthy Warriors team frothing at the chance to move up the standings and ride a winning wave into the postseason.

But a loss can completely alter the final week. Rest and ice packs likely would be on the way, preserving an aged team that’s seen enough roadblocks this season. Buckle up. The ride has reached levels far past wild and bumpy already. It’s only fitting for the final straightaway to begin against the Lakers in LA, with so much on the line once more.

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