When it comes to the 2023 NBA playoffs, the first order of business for the defending champion Golden State Warriors is to avoid the play-in tournament entirely. In order to do so, the Warriors will have to hold steady at the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference playoff picture, where they currently sit with a 39-36 record.
"We definitely want to stay out of the play-in tournament," Stephen Curry said after the Warriors' 120-112 win over 76ers on Friday night, via ESPN. "You never know how that can go -- a single game here or there."
The Warriors know from experience just how tough the play-in tournament can be, as their season ended with a loss to Memphis in the play-in in 2021. Now, with less than 10 regular season games remaining, Golden State is in a precarious position. They're only a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns for the fourth seed -- and home-court advantage in the first round -- but they're also just 2.5 games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, who currently sit in the 11th slot. A couple of wins, or losses, in a row could go a long way toward determining where the Warriors ultimately finish the season.
"That is dangerous," Draymond Green said of the play-in tournament. "We'd much rather avoid that... We just try to win every game we play. I don't think it's necessarily, 'Aw man, we can catch those guys.' It's a log jam. If you take care of business and win the games you're supposed to -- maybe one or two that you're not supposed to win -- you put yourself in a great position. That's our goal."
In addition to the importance of seeding, the Warriors also want to be in a good groove collectively heading into postseason play, as opposed to limping their way in.
"The mindset is always you're trying to put together a solid run heading into the playoffs. Nobody wants to limbo into the playoffs and have to turn it on," Curry said. "We somewhat did that last year but you'd rather not have that kind of uncertainty going in. No matter how it pans out, you want to be firing on all cylinders."
When it comes to their quest of avoiding the play-in, Golden State has an important game on Sunday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are currently seventh in the standings -- directly behind the Warriors. A win over the Wolves will widen the gap between the two teams, while a loss will drop the Warriors closer to that seventh seed.
The Warriors also have remaining games against the Pelicans and Thunder -- two other teams they're competing with for playoff positioning in the West. If they're able to take care of business in those games, the Warriors should be able to put themselves in position to avoid the dreaded play-in tournament entirely.