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sport / / BANG: NBA’s ‘deepest’ Western Conference making Warriors playoff push a struggle

o BANG: NBA’s ‘deepest’ Western Conference making Warriors playoff push a struggleAllen

BANG: NBA’s ‘deepest’ Western Conference making Warriors playoff push a struggle


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From: (Allen)
Subject: BANG: NBA’s ‘deepest’ Western Confer
Date: Sat, 9 Mar 2024 21:25:11 -0800
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 by: Allen - Sun, 10 Mar 2024 05:25 UTC

NBA’s ‘deepest’ Western Conference making Warriors playoff push a struggle
Despite playing well, the Warriors haven't made much headway in a
cramped West

>Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (30) winces in pain as he hobbles
off the court injured in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls,
Thursday, March 7, 2024, at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif. (Karl
Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Danny Emerman is a Bay Area News Group sports reporter
By DANNY EMERMAN | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: March 9, 2024 at 5:45 a.m. | UPDATED: March 9, 2024 at 4:25 p.m.

On Feb. 22, the Warriors were 27-26 and in 10th place.

Three weeks later, the Warriors are 33-29 … and in a virtual tie for
10th place.

Thursday’s 125-122 loss to the Bulls was a double whammy for the
Warriors. Above them in the standings, the Mavericks, Kings and Suns
each won. It was a snapshot of how a cluttered play-in picture has made
it difficult for the Warriors to progress.

Even after turning around their season with an 11-3 February and going
6-3 since the All-Star break, the Warriors remain staunchly in the
play-in round. Their playoff probability has risen only modestly since
the break, from 48.6% to 58.9% — from a coin flip to sitting in the
dealer seat at a blackjack table.

They control their own destiny, but just barely. Per Basketball
Reference’s playoff probabilities report, the Warriors have a 12.5%
chance of escaping the play-in round of seeds seven through 10.

The severity of Steph Curry’s ankle injury threatens to further
complicate the team’s stated goal of snatching the No. 6 seed. But no
matter how healthy their superstar is, the parity at the bottom half of
the Western Conference will be a serious obstacle.

“This is the deepest that I’ve ever seen either conference, I would
say,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this week. “Because night after
night, it feels like you’re swimming upstream. Everybody’s good.”

The teams seeded six through 10 the Warriors are competing with are the
Mavericks, Suns, Kings and Lakers. Of those teams, only the Warriors and
Kings (5-3) have played over .500 ball since the All-Star break. But
none have bottomed out.

“I think we won like 13 out of 16 and we’re still in 10th,” Kerr said.
“Maybe we moved up from 11th? Maybe when this run started we were
further back? But we have made up a lot of ground, and we are within
striking distance of a lot of teams. We feel good about that, but we’ve
got to keep playing at a high level if we want to make more ground up.”

For much of the past decade, the West has been a better overall
conference than the East. But that dynamic is typically cyclical, if not
random. Kerr has a few theories as to why this year’s Western Conference
is so deep.

The new play-in postseason format, instituted in 2020, incentivizes more
teams to compete rather than tank for a draft pick. Any team that gets
in the top 10 now has a puncher’s chance at making a run; just last
year, the Lakers went from the play-in to the conference final.

Then at the top of the standings, teams like Oklahoma City, Minnesota,
Denver and the Clippers are either in their top stage or an ascending
point in their roster building. They either have young stars (Shai
Gilgeous-Alexander and Anthony Edwards) or superstars in their prime
(Nikola Jokic and Kawhi Leonard) to build around.

Then there’s the style of play. More teams are shooting more 3-pointers
than ever before, which can be a great equalizer. The influx of
international stars like Jokic and Luka Doncic has also made the
league’s talent pool as impressive as it’s ever been.

“There’s just a lot of really talented players,” Kerr said. “The style
of play with 3-point shooting, with the pace, it’s hard to guard a lot
of these players, lot of these teams. There’s a lot of really great
coaches in this league. I think the level of play is really high right now.”

* Hit-aheads

— Per multiple reports, the initial results of Steph Curry’s ankle
injury were better than feared, and he’s not expected to miss
significant time. The Warriors have two games against the Spurs and road
games in Dallas and Los Angeles upcoming.

The Warriors aren’t alone among the West in dealing with injuries.
Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns underwent knee surgery that will
sideline him until at least the playoffs, and Suns guard Devin Booker
has been out with an ankle sprain. Russell Westbrook has also been
unavailable for the Clippers and Memphis’ season was derailed by Ja
Morant’s injury (as well as his early suspension).

— Kevon Looney’s impressive Iron Man streak of games played ended on
Thursday night when he was left out of the rotation. He logged 290
consecutive games including the playoffs, a stretch that spans back to
March 20, 2021.

“We’ve all always said that Loon is the ultimate professional,” Draymond
Green said. “Obviously no one wants to see the streak get broken, but
the reality is streaks are made to be broken. And whenever his number’s
called, you know he’ll be ready.”

— After missing what would have been a game-tying reverse layup late in
the Bulls loss, Brandin Podziemski keeled over with his hands on his
knees. He later sat alone on the Warriors’ bench for a moment. The
rookie has been extremely hard on himself in rare moments of struggle
this year, but told Michael Wagaman of NBC Sports Bay Area that he’s not
going to dwell on the miss.

“In the NBA you have to (move past it),” Podziemski said. “You look at
it, obviously a whole bunch of things contribute to a win or loss, and
it’s not just one moment. I know that. I’m just going to look back at
what I could have done better throughout the whole course of the game,
not just in that moment. I’ll improve on it and be ready for Saturday.”

sport / / BANG: NBA’s ‘deepest’ Western Conference making Warriors playoff push a struggle


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