SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors are back in the playoffs for the first time in two years. And unlike the last time they were in the postseason — and the four times before that — there aren’t many expectations surrounding them.
Sure, they are expected to make it past the first round. Maybe even the second. Some believe they could go to the Western Conference Finals. But none of the discussion around the Warriors compares to their dynastic era, when they were clear favorites to win it all every season.
“Nobody is picking us to win, to come out of the West, at least I don’t think, except our families,” Stephen Curry said. “Which is fine. It’s just a matter of you’ve got to win four games, and in order to do that, we have a certain game plan we are going to try and execute on Saturday … and we understand every game takes we have a new life of our own.”
Added Steve Kerr: “I think four years ago … I am expecting to win a championship. But we are a different team now. I don’t have any expectations. I know I’m not going into the playoffs thinking, ‘ All right, we’re going to do this or do that,’ I’m just thinking, ‘How can we beat Denver on Saturday?’ In a lot of ways, it makes it really fun. Maybe not as fun as having one of the greatest rosters ever assembled, but it’s a completely different challenge and unique.”
The Warriors are by no means counted out. But for them to truly compete with the two teams above them in the standings — the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies — a lot has to go right.
That includes the team’s health.
Curry took a step toward getting Golden State’s roster whole again on Thursday as he participated in the team’s scrimmage, a crucial marker in getting him back on the court after a month away.
But since the Warriors have yet to play a full game with their entire active roster, they will have to do something they have never been tasked with: figure out their rotation and playing combinations in real time throughout the playoffs.
Not to mention, they will be doing this with a roster that, unlike those past Warriors super teams, doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff experience on it. Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevon Looney have plenty of playoff basketball to pull from. But looking at the other rotational players such as Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, Gary Payton II and Jonathan Kuminga and even players such as Nemanja Bjelica and Otto Porter Jr., their resumes are not as long.
Thompson showed his younger teammates highlights from the Warriors’ 2016-17 season, when they won 73 regular-season games, came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference finals and ultimately blew a 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals. Thompson wanted to show them the range of events that can happen, even when you are the favorite to win.
He also showed them a clip of Kobe Bryant from the 2009 NBA finals, when Bryant told reporters that he wasn’t happy after winning the title because his job wasn’t finished.
For Thompson, having that individual mindset is all that matters heading into the postseason.
“I still have the same expectation as I did before, and that’s to win a championship,” Thompson said. “It’s right there for us. We know how hard it is, and yeah, it’s a different time, but nothing is ever the same. We have the opportunity ahead of us, and it’s a great one.”