It's the Warriors, how often do things work out for them?
After watching them valiantly come back against the Los Angeles Clippers and come up just short, it showed that they are not going to lie down to ensure that they keep their own pick. Down nearly 20 points in the first quarter, the Warriors could have just quit, but didn't.
That sent the message they are going to play to win and will likely end up winning one too many games down the stretch.
It looked like they might actually be trying to tank though. They shut down David Lee and Stephen Curry and put Andris Biedrins into the starting lineup, all of which greatly improve their chances of losing. They were starting three rookies too—always a good recipe for losing. But that still leaves one problem. They are giving heavy minutes to the guys playing for new deals.
Brandon Rush, Dominic McGuire and Nate Robinson all are playing 30-plus minutes a night and playing well to boot. These three guys have no contract for next season, so they have no reason to lie down. Why would they be a part of actively trying to lose games when they are playing for a new deal and most likely (Robinson) with a new team?
These three don't know if they are going to be around for this team to reap the benefits of getting a lottery talent on the team next year, so what do they care if losing is beneficial? They are on the floor to win the game and to look good for potential bidders this offseason. For all intents and purposes, everyone else on the floor looks like they are playing to win, and kudos for that, even if it is detrimental in the long run.
The problem is the Warriors don't have a lot of other options than the free-agents-to-be. Stephen Curry is out, ditto for Andrew Bogut, Lee and now Richard Jefferson is banged up so they have to have someone on the court. The fact that they are playing so many minutes and playing well, is the reason that the Warriors will win just enough of their upcoming games to lose out on their own pick.
The Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets all need to position themselves to get a better pick, especially the Nets, who need to improve their chances of getting a top-three selection otherwise they lose their pick, so all three might tank themselves. The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the mix too. Not too for draft positioning, but because they just can't win a basketball game.
With six games to go, unless the Warriors consciously tank, it appears they just might win themselves out of their pick.
After tonight's loss against the San Antonio Spurs (assuming they go ahead and lose), they get the Los Angeles Lakers at home who will be playing their fourth game in six days and will likely be without Kobe Bryant. If the Warriors were lying down, a loss to the Lakers would be a given (it might be anyway). Again, we have seen no evidence of them doing that. So while highly unlikely, I wouldn't take an upset of the table in front of the home crowd.
We can assume as both teams are fighting for playoff positioning, the Warriors, even if healthy, would lose both of those games.
Then, they play their third game in three days on Sunday in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. Three straight days with a game bodes well for a Warriors loss, but the T-wolves will likely be without Kevin Love and are in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. The Warriors could easily win this game. If they do, they can kiss their own pick good-bye. And with the Timberwolves showing no signs of winning another game this year, this could be the finisher considering the last two games on the schedule.
The first of the Warriors' final two home games is a game against a competitive New Orleans Hornets team.
The Hornets, who are playing well, have actually won four straight games. However, Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon's statuses are now in doubt, and without them they scored a total of 75 points in their last game. If both Kaman and Gordon are still out, and since this one is at home, the Warriors look like they will win this one. Again, if the Warriors were trying to lose, it could be easily done, but it doesn't look like they're trying to lose.
Now they are sitting at two very winnable games while assuming three losses.
Next is the finale against the Spurs in both teams' final game of the season. This is the game to really worry about for everyone on tank watch.
The Warriors, if in position to get their pick by losing this one, better hope that a loss is not beneficial to the Spurs or that they don't have the one seed already wrapped up. If the Spurs are going to be better off losing this game to position themselves for a more favorable first round playoff matchup, head coach Gregg Popovich will make sure they lose this game.
Can you imagine if both teams need to lose this game? The Warriors, to clinch the seventh worst record to lock in a lottery pick, and the Spurs needing to lose to make sure they get the right matchup they want in the first round?
If that is the case, advantage Spurs and Popovich. If the Spurs want to lose that game, they will. It might also be the worst NBA basketball game you will ever see that doesn't involve the Charlotte Bobcats.
It doesn’t look good for the Warriors to keep their pick, but things could change. The Warriors could play rookies Jeremy Tyler and Charles Jenkins more, leave Biedrins on the court for 48 minutes—or at least until he fouls out—and really try to lose. However, right now it appears that they are going out there to compete the rest of the season. That, combined with needing four other losing teams to win, is going to derail #TankExpress.
Maybe by doing the right thing and trying hard every game, the Warriors might get lucky. It “only” took me 24 tries on ESPN's NBA Lottery Mock Draft for the Warriors to get a top-three pick, so you never know.