No rest stop needed for road Warriors

ByMichael Wallace ESPN logo
Thursday, April 2, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- This was supposed to be a possible preview of the Western Conference finals, with the Golden State Warriors rolling into Memphis one victory shy of matching a franchise record and facing the only team they've yet to beat during their remarkable run this season.

The only suspense, though, came well after the game was over.

It was wrapped in a pregnant pause that lasted nearly three seconds as the media horde around Warriors coach Steve Kerr stood in stunned silence, waiting on the punch line. Kerr was asked for his thoughts on the league's hotly contested MVP race entering the final weeks of the regular season.

"For the record," Kerr answered with a blank expression, "I would vote for Russell Westbrook."

All within earshot froze.

Faces frowned.

Necks jerked.

The first thought from here was: Didn't Kerr just see Golden State catalyst Stephen Curry drop 38 points and 10 assists in 34 minutes during the Warriors' 107-84 annihilation of the Grizzlies on the road?

The second thought: Oh, Kerr is just being gracious and noble by giving the nod to someone other than his own guy, considering coaches don't technically get a vote in the process.

Kerr quickly ended the madness before anyone could think to check if anyone had spiked the barbeque sauce on the Warriors' postgame meal spread. The prankster was in full postseason form.

"Didn't somebody else just say that?" Kerr said as he lobbed the wisecrack that shattered the silence with laughter. "I'm just kidding. Make sure the sarcasm is noted."

Kerr was subtly referring to last week's national semi-controversy, when Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love suggested during a radio interview that he believes Westbrook should win MVP this season over all contenders, including teammate LeBron James. Between Kerr's levity and Curry's lethal shooting, the Warriors continue to be the most explosive show in the NBA these days.

By trouncing the Grizzlies on Friday, the Warriors improved the league's best record to 59-13 and need one victory to surpass the franchise's 40-year-old mark for regular-season wins. Golden State has won eight in a row, 13 of its past 14 games and is now 39-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points.

On the surface, Curry may be competing with James, Westbrook and Houston's James Harden through the end of the regular season for MVP votes. But his stiffest completion might come from the overall dominance of his own team, with the Warriors shredding yet another opponent on the strength of the league's most lethal offense and stingiest defense.

Golden State extended its lead in the West over the second-place Grizzlies to 9 games with 10 left to play, which means it is essentially a lock for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs through at least the conference finals. The Warriors could basically cruise to the completion of their schedule and opt to give key players time off to rest up for the postseason.

But fatigue isn't in issue for this team.

When you're putting away teams in three quarters, there's plenty of time to rest in the final period. That was again the case Friday night as Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 66 points and shot 14-of-21 from 3-point range for Golden State, which built a 22-point lead in the third quarter. The rest of the game offered sufficient rest, which makes Curry's MVP credentials all the more astounding.

The Warriors through 72 games remain the only team in the league with a double-figure point differential at 10.9, which is nearly twice the margin of anyone else. As a result, there have been dozens of nights when Curry has transitioned late in games from Splash Brother to spectator.

"Somebody told me I missed something like 17 fourth quarters, just off leads we've had," Curry said Friday of having the luxury of idle time. "That's a testament to how well we've been playing. But those minutes add up as you go through the season. It helps you stay consistent, stay fresh. It's not like we're sacrificing anything with our play to rest guys. Everybody is doing their jobs. We're getting leads and getting wins and trying to make it as easy on ourselves as possible."

That's one reason why Kerr said it won't necessarily become a priority for Golden State to reduce the workload of key rotation players over the remaining games of the season. The team's combination of depth -- the Warriors had 11 players get between six and 34 minutes of action Friday -- and relative health allows Kerr to go deep into his bench without disrupting the collective rhythm.

Kerr said reserve forward Andre Iguodala would sit out Saturday's game in Milwaukee to rest. The only other player whose minutes are being closely monitored right now is Thompson, who had recently been dealing with a sprained ankle. Kerr followed through on his pregame plan to limit Thompson to between 25 and 30 minutes; he played just under 27 against the Grizzlies.

The notion is that Golden State is in too much of a rhythm to tinker too much with rest.

"One of our mantras this year has been, 'Let's set a standard. Let's play to that standard consistently,'" Kerr said. "There's a few things that kind of go into that. Good [defense], take care of the ball, move the ball. When we reach that standard, we're really tough to beat. In a game that doesn't really mean that much to us in the standings, but against a really good team, to do it on the road, it's impressive."

Curry's efficiency this season has been most impressive of all. He won't talk much about pushing for MVP, but his actions on the court -- and the quick manner in which he's piled up stats -- speaks volumes. On rare occasions Curry's numbers might not say enough, Draymond Green is always ready to speak up.

"It's not close at all," Green said of the MVP race. "In a game like this, he comes out and shows what he's got. Best record in the league, best offense in the league by a large margin. Steph has the best plus-minus in the league, and not to mention ... he does it in three quarters because we've beaten a lot of teams by a lot of points. Every game we play isn't close. So we don't have to score in the last seconds or the last few minutes of the game. He sits the whole fourth quarter. So those numbers can get skewed."

Curry doesn't see any reason for the Warriors to change their approach, even as the finish line of a grueling regular season looms. Golden State got off to the fastest start in the league.

And they want to finish that way, too.

"We're in a good spot right now, obviously, in the standings and having 10 games left and having a pretty good lead on the No. 1 seed," Curry said. "But if we sputter and falter in to the playoffs, it's not going to be a good look for us. We feel like we can keep that going the rest of the season. No need rushing it. Just stick to the program. Play hard. Try to play well. And just be us."

That's been the Warriors way all season -- from start to finish.

Curry and his teammates have maintained the hunger.

And Kerr has a knack for delivering the timely humor.

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