When the Warriors embarked on the 2016-17 season, they had a few goals in mind: rank amongst the top defensive teams in the league, be healthy going into the postseason and earn homecourt advantage if possible. Five-plus months, 80 games and 66 wins later, the Dubs have checked off all of those boxes.
With another three victories last week, the Dubs improved their league-best record to 66-14 on the season, and Wednesday’s victory over the Suns secured the top overall seed and homecourt advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs. Their winning streak now stands at a season-best 14 games with two games remaining on their regular season slate, and if Golden State managed to win both of those, they’d surpass the 1949-50 Rochester Royals for the longest winning streak to close out a regular season in league history. Every team wants to get hot going into the playoffs, and given their play over the last few weeks, it appears the Warriors are doing just that.
In their two other wins last week over the Timberwolves and Pelicans, the Warriors totaled 33 and 37 assists, respectively, meaning they’ve now notched 30-or-more assists in a game 50 times this season. That’s the second-highest total in NBA history behind the 1984-85 Showtime Lakers who accomplished the feat 52 times, meaning a tie for the NBA record is not out of the question depending on how Golden State rounds out these final two games.
The Warriors limited their opponents to a combined 16-of-67 (.239) shooting from three-point range last week, and have allowed their counterpart to convert more than a third of their long range attempts just three times during the current winning streak. Despite the fact that the league has experienced record-setting numbers in three-point shooting this season, Golden State’s three-point defense has remained unaffected. They’ve held their opponents to just 32.4 percent from three-point land so far this season, which ranks first in the league and is their best mark in more than 25 years.
Golden State leads the NBA in offensive rating (113.4) and trails only San Antonio by three-tenths of a point per 100 possessions for the best defensive rating in the league. Their current net rating of plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions would trail only the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the best mark in the league in the last 40 years.
Oh, and then there’s the health thing. The Warriors got a tremendous boost in that category when Kevin Durant returned from a 19-game absence in Golden State’s victory over the Pelicans on Sunday. Durant opened the scoring with a baseline jam and led all Warriors players in minutes played (31) and total rebounds (10) in his first game back. Matt Barnes twisted an ankle in that game and Kevon Looney is still dealing with a hip strain, but outside of those two individuals, the roster is at its’ healthiest state in a long time. Additionally, clinching homecourt advantage last week has afforded Kerr the ability to rest key players, which could prove to be a huge bonus down the line.
The Warriors will finish the regular season with the best overall record in the NBA for a third-straight year, becoming the first team to accomplish the feat since the Boston Celtics from 1982-84. They’re the first and only team in NBA history to win at least 65 games in three-straight campaigns, and consequently have won more games over that three-year span than any other team in the history of the league. However, less than a week from now, their record will be wiped clean. They know they’ll face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the upcoming playoffs, in which they’ll begin their pursuit of their ultimate goal – an NBA championship.
Standout Spotlight: Klay Thompson
It’s quite a luxury to have a starting backcourt in which either member is capable of dropping 40 points on any given night, and that’s precisely what happened last week, in which Klay Thompson scored 41 against the Timberwolves before Stephen Curry tallied 42 against the Suns. Thompson followed that 41-point effort with 42 points over the next two games, and has scored at least 20 points in all but one of his last 16 contests. He made 12 three-pointers last week to push his season total to 267 made threes, and if he were to notch three more through the rest of the regular season, he and Curry would combine to hold the top-six single-season three-point totals in NBA history.
But while the league is fully aware of Thompson’s proficiency from long range, he showed off a lesser-seen element of his game last week: his ability to get to the free throw line. Thompson shot 17-of-19 (.895) from the charity stripe last week, which qualifies as the second-most free throws he’s made and attempted over any three-game stretch this season. He’s one of the more accurate free throw shooters in the entire league, and when opposing defenses are compelled to respect his driving ability, it opens up that much more room for him on the perimeter, which is all he needs to get his shot off. The increase in aggressiveness is a positive sign, particularly heading into the postseason where trips to the line are often harder to come by.
The Week Ahead:
The playoffs begin this upcoming weekend, but not before the Warriors play their final two games of the regular season. First, Golden State will host the Utah Jazz on Monday before finishing off their regular season slate against the Lakers on Wednesday night. The Warriors will face the Trail Blazers in the first round in a rematch of last year’s second round series, so the final two regular season games of Golden State’s 2016-17 campaign offer the Dubs their final chance to round into form heading into the wild ride that is the playoffs.