The Golden State Warriors haven’t lost three straight regular season games since November 2013. That could change on Saturday, when the Warriors face San Antonio on the road while resting three of their five starters.
After Friday’s 103-102 loss to the Timberwolves, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr announced that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala would rest on the following night. Of course, Kevin Durant remains out with his knee injury.
Golden State is in a brutal stretch of games. They’ve played seven games since Feb. 27, with six coming on the road and five of those against Eastern Conference squads on the other side of the country. The back-to-back against San Antonio is their third in this stretch, and several of the games were nationally televised. (That means longer commercial breaks, which means games finishing later, which means even later arrivals at hotels after a postgame flight.)
Especially because the Warriors have lost four of their last six games, Saturday’s matchup against San Antonio is immensely important within the Western Conference standings. The Spurs trail the Warriors by 1.5 games headed into this game. Not only can they pull within half a game with a win, but they can win the season series against Golden State with a win — the two teams play three times, and the Spurs already won the first one, on opening night.
Given that, it initially seems surprising that the Warriors chose to rest players for Saturday’s game, rather than the less important Friday matchup. (They probably didn’t expect the one-point loss to Minnesota, however.) Because Kawhi Leonard has been ruled out with a concussion, the Warriors would surely be favored to beat San Antonio, although it’s always unwise to count out the Spurs regardless if they’re shorthanded.
If you look a little deeper, though, there are some reasons it makes sense.
The Warriors didn’t know Kawhi Leonard would be out
While it appeared Golden State’s players only found out about resting after Friday’s game, Kerr and the Warriors coaching staff must have planned this out in advance. Decisions had clearly already been made on Thursday, when the team announced Shaun Livingston would sit out Friday’s game. Leonard sustained the elbow to his head on Thursday night, and it wasn’t until Friday a few hours before the Warriors’ game that the Spurs announced Leonard was entering the NBA’s concussion protocol.
Facing the Spurs and Leonard in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back is a losing proposition, and the Warriors clearly couldn’t have guaranteed a win — or even that a win would have been likely. Leonard’s absence gives them a much better chance, but they didn’t know that when they set the plan into action.
Golden State isn’t selling out for the top seed in Durant’s absence
The Warriors don’t feel like home court advantage is worth risking injury or burning out players during this especially brutal stretch of games. Not playing their stars against the Spurs isn’t conceding it, either — they’ll still be up half a game in a loss. It would be more demoralizing to play the starters on the second night of a back-to-back after yet another long flight, only to lose despite the team’s best effort.
After San Antonio, the Warriors have a couple days off and then a three-game home stand against Philadelphia, Orlando and Milwaukee. The rest of their season isn’t easy — they play Houston twice, San Antonio again on March 28, a home game vs. Utah, and on the road in hostile Oklahoma City — but it is home heavy. Again, the Warriors haven’t lost three straight in nearly four years. This team hardly ever losses regular season games, and they have to believe they can finish the season on a relatively strong note.
If San Antonio does steal the top seed, it obviously means they’ll have home court advantage if the two teams play each other. However, home court in the Finals is determined by record, not seeding, and the Warriors have a nearly 10-game lead over the 42-21 Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s zero chance they lose home court advantage to them in a potential NBA Finals matchup.
Having home court advantage throughout would be preferred, but the Warriors aren’t so desperate that they’ll wear out their stars during a particularly difficult stretch of games to do it.