Last Friday, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr dealt a blow to the NBA world by announcing he was resting his stars for a Saturday matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.
The news came as a disappointment, as NBA fans had been looking forward to a showdown between the Western Conference's top two teams, both fighting for first place.
Kerr said Friday, coming off a long road trip, that team doctors had told him that the game against the Spurs, the second night of a back-to-back, posed the highest risk for injury to his players, so he opted to rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala.
Though the Spurs were short-handed, too — Kawhi Leonard was in concussion protocol, LaMarcus Aldridge is being held out with heart arrhythmia, and Tony Parker rested — they still beat the Warriors handily, 107-85.
Despite the absence of stars taking away from the blockbuster nature of the game, there were still implications. With the win, the Spurs took the season series, with only one more game between the two teams later in March. And, three days later, with the Spurs beating the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, the two teams are now tied for first place at 52-14.
The two teams seem to be sliding in opposite directions. The Warriors have struggled without Kevin Durant, losing three in a row and five of their last 10. It's been worsened by an ill-timed and unusual slump from Stephen Curry. The Spurs, meanwhile, though Aldridge's condition is a concern, have won 16 of their last 19 games.
The Spurs now own the tiebreaker, and if the two teams finish with the same record, Kerr's decision to rest his stars could come back to haunt him. Of course, Kerr was being cautious and likely knew the stakes of the season series. However, as things currently stand in the Western Conference, the paths to the Finals of the first-place team and the second-place team are quite different.
The first-place team will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They would also get a relatively easy first-round matchup with a Western Conference eighth seed, which has looked inferior to the top seven teams all season long. As a result, the first seed could have a quick series and then get more time to rest. Likewise, a second-round matchup would be against a lower seed.
The second-place team would face a tougher first-round matchup. As of now, the seventh seed looks like it will be either the Memphis Grizzlies or Oklahoma City Thunder, a tougher, more physical opponent capable of winning several games. And if the top seeds advance, as usually happens, the second seed would then play the Houston Rockets in the next round, another tough opponent.
The premise assumes several things, but nonetheless, it's a reminder that every game counts in the NBA. Perhaps the Warriors feel confident that they can reach the NBA Finals, if healthy, regardless of their seed. But if they end up with the No. 2 seed as a result of the season series against the Spurs, that road will be tougher.
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