Strong road finish puts Dubs in control for final stretch

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The Warriors on several occasions this season have exhibited the element that best separates them from the rest of the NBA. The ability to summon their best when it matters most.

Championship DNA, they call it. Serenity in the face of peril.

In the wake of Golden State’s pulsating 127-125 victory Wednesday in Dallas, Draymond Green used a single synonymous word.

“We stayed poised,” he told reporters at American Airlines Center. “We got the shots that we wanted to get. It feels like every possession down the stretch, we got the shot that we wanted to get.”

Poise, particularly among the veterans, is the Warriors’ stealth weapon. It’s intangible but generates tangible results. It was their most significant edge during the 2022 NBA Finals, allowing them to vanquish the Boston Celtics, who, man for man, were at least as good.

That’s what the Warriors are going to need over the final eight games to remain among the top six teams in the Western Conference and, therefore, avoid the potential pitfalls of the play-in tournament.

“We have to treat every game now like it’s a playoff game, because it’s basically what it is,” coach Steve Kerr said in Dallas. “We’re fighting with seven other teams trying to jockey for either playoff position, an actual playoff berth, or a play-in berth depending on how it plays out.”

Two of Golden State’s remaining games are against the Denver Nuggets and the Sacramento Kings, teams above them in the West standings. There is a scenario in which the Warriors can survive a split of those, both of which are on the road.

Two of their games are against teams, the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers, going nowhere. At this point of the season, considering the stakes, the Warriors ought to be too learned to fall to a spoiler. Those must be wins.

Three games are against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder – teams that, like them, reside in the bloated middle of the West. Between their “championship DNA” and all three of those games scheduled for Chase Center, the Warriors are in a position they know well and in a building that has been very good for them.

“Down the stretch, all of these games are important,” Kevon Looney said. “We’ve got to approach it like that.”

And, no, we didn’t forget the other game. The one scheduled for Friday, when Golden State plays its final game this season against an Eastern Conference opponent. It happens to be the Philadelphia 76ers, who are the hottest team in the league, winning nine of their last 10 and 15 of their last 19.

A loss, again, need not be catastrophic. But winning would be a delicious bonus, food for the Warriors’ souls.

If, somehow, the Warriors go 8-0 the rest of the way, finishing with a 10-game win streak, that likely could vault them into the top four in the West. Stephen Curry is three weeks removed from referring to a top-four finish, earning homecourt advantage in the first round, as a best-case scenario.

Not impossible, but unrealistic.

Winning seven of the remaining eight games is conceivable insofar as only three remaining opponents have better records, but two are on the road.

Should the Warriors win six more games – including a sweep of the three teams in their sphere – that would give them 44 wins. That would keep them in the top six.

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A road trip that felt disastrous after losing the first three games was salvaged by winning the last two. The Warriors left home in fifth place and return in sixth. They still are in a position to dictate their destiny.

“We knew we had to win these last two games,” Kerr said. “That’s how we felt given that everybody is just jockeying for position, and we have some tough games coming up.”

The victory over the Mavericks suggests the Warriors still have what it takes to grind out a win when their status is on the line. A loss would have been devastating to their hopes.

But the next eight games that determine if the heart at the center of their “championship DNA” still beats as strongly as it did 11 months ago.

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