Warriors, Hawks prioritizing health over NBA’s best record
ANTONIO GONZALEZ, AP Basketball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Barring a major turn of events, the only thing the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks have left to play for is the NBA’s best record.
Just don’t expect either team to wear itself out trying to get it.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer have been regularly resting players to keep them fresh for the playoffs. After all, Atlanta (53-17) began Monday with an eight-game lead over Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, and Golden State (56-13) was 7½ games ahead of Memphis in the West.
“If you are thinking about home court in the finals, it’s really getting greedy,” Kerr said. “We’re a ways from really even thinking about that. We’d have to win three playoff series to get there. It’s not anything I’m going to mention. It’s not anything I’m going to think about.”
Neither team has anything to prove against the other. Golden State routed Atlanta 114-95 last Wednesday, while the Hawks beat the Warriors 124-116 at home in February.
Both coaches call San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich — who has perfected the art of resting while winning titles — a mentor and share similar philosophies. Like the five-time champion Spurs coach, Kerr and Budenholzer don’t care nearly as much about earning the league’s top overall seed as they do about preparing their team for the games that matter most.
“Ultimately, if you’re going to have success in the playoffs,” Budenholzer said, “you’re going to have to win on the road.”
Still, the coaches acknowledge that home-court advantage would be nice.
The Warriors are an NBA-best 33-2 at home. Atlanta is second at 30-5. Of course, they’re also the league’s best road teams — Golden State is 23-11 and Atlanta is 23-12.
But staying fresh for the playoffs remains paramount. Golden State’s Klay Thompson (sprained right ankle) and Atlanta’s Kyle Korver (broken nose) sat out with injuries last week, and both teams want to avoid the type of wear-and-tear on their stars that can cripple championship dreams.
“It’s all about just being healthy and playing at our best,” Kerr said. “If that’s part of it, getting that home court throughout, that’d be great. But that’s not our primary goal.”
Here are some things to watch around the NBA this week:
WEST PLAYOFF WATCH: Oklahoma City began Monday 2 ½ games ahead of Phoenix for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot, though the Thunder could be without defending NBA MVP Kevin Durant the rest of the season because of persistent pain in his right foot. Oklahoma City is home against the Lakers on Tuesday before playing at San Antonio on Wednesday, at Utah on Saturday and at Phoenix on Sunday.
CLUTTERED EAST: Indiana, Miami, Boston, Charlotte and Brooklyn are battling for the final two playoff spots in the East. The Celtics visit the Nets on Monday and host the Heat on Wednesday.
LOTTERY LOOKAHEAD: The Knicks (14-56) are moving closer to securing the NBA’s worst record and the best chance to land the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery. New York’s 95-92 loss to Minnesota on Thursday gave the Knicks more cushion at the bottom. New York lost both games to Minnesota this season.
BEST IN THE WEST: Memphis probably won’t catch Golden State for the West’s top seed, but both will get another taste this week of what could be a conference finals preview. The Warriors visit Memphis on Friday. The teams have split two games so far, with each winning on its home floor.
MVP RACE: One of the biggest knocks on Stephen Curry’s MVP credentials is that he plays on a team loaded with talent and alongside another sharpshooting All-Star guard, while Houston’s James Harden has played much of the year without Dwight Howard, and Russell Westbrook has carried Oklahoma City in Durant’s absence. Well, Curry is making the most of his chance to shine alone as Thompson nurses a sprained right ankle. Curry led the Warriors to wins over the Hawks, Pelicans and Jazz without Thompson, who could return Monday night against the Washington Wizards.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Brooklyn beat Milwaukee 129-127 in triple-overtime Friday night. It was the second time this season the teams played three overtimes, with the Bucks winning 122-118 in triple-overtime on Nov. 19. It’s the first time in NBA history teams played multiple games of at least three overtimes against each other in the same season.