Sunday NBA Roundup: Warriors Banish Demons While Making History

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 11, 2016

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry celebrates the win after an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Sunday, April 10, 2016, in San Antonio. Golden State won 92-86. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Darren Abate/Associated Press

The Golden State Warriors checked off a whole bunch of boxes on their history-making NBA to-do list with a 92-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs Sunday.

And now, there's only one left: victory No. 73, which the Warriors will look to secure Wednesday at home against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The milestones achieved in Sunday's victory, each sillier than the last:

  • Golden State won its 72nd game of the year, tying the single-season record set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
  • It also beat the Spurs in San Antonio for the first time since Valentine's Day in 1997.
  • The road win was the Dubs' 34th of the year, also an NBA record.
  • By logging a victory in the AT&T Center, Golden State prevented the Spurs from becoming the first team to ever go undefeated at home for an entire season.
  • The Warriors never lost back-to-back games, another NBA first. 
  • Last ridiculous box checked: The Warriors locked in status as the first team to ever go a full season without losing to the same team twice.

There are plenty of explanations for how all this happened. Some go back months and years to the formative days of this collection of players, coaches and executives. Some have their roots in offseason work, chips on shoulders and lucky coin flips. But for all that nuance, happenstance and fortune, the main reason the Warriors succeeded Sunday (and this season) stays simple, per Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com:

Curry turned the tide with 16 points in the third quarter, though that total could have been higher if the callous, fun-averse officiating crew had allowed his too-late heave from the Spurs' three-point line.

This head-on rim attack and lefty finish did count, though. And it may have been the bucket that sealed the Warriors' momentum seizure.

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Curry finished with 37 points, five rebounds and five assists on 13-of-22 shooting, despite being ceaselessly hounded off the ball and the focal point of all five Spurs defenders whenever he had the rock. His triumphant outburst stood as strong evidence the Spurs' historically stout defense was no match for an offensive force existing on his own plane.

The Warriors improved their season record against San Antonio to 3-1, and they did it by defending and gradually introducing pace and chaos into the mix. As the Spurs look toward potential playoff-series adjustments, they'll have to focus most narrowly on their inability to score consistently against a quick, connected Dubs defense. In four meetings this season, the Warriors have held the Spurs to 94.8 points per 100 possessions, a scoring rate nearly two points worse than the Philadelphia 76ers' 30th-ranked offense.

LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points on 11-of-18 shooting) showed flashes of dominance in the post, and Kawhi Leonard did well to create shots in isolation. But the Warriors absolutely suffocated everyone else Sunday.

With four games of evidence, the Dubs know they can stifle the Spurs on one end. They also know all they have to do to capitalize is ramp up the offensive tempo for short stretches. The Spurs have proved they just can't keep up—on the road or at home.

The resulting mental edge, as highlighted by Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group, is profound:

All that stands between Golden State and immortality is the Grizzlies, whom it'll face at home Wednesday. The Warriors narrowly escaped against the Grizz Saturday, and we can't forget the way these Dubs sometimes slip against weak competition. Four of Golden State's nine losses came against the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Still, victory No. 73 feels like a foregone conclusion—if only because Curry's covetous clutching of the game ball in San Antonio signified how much this regular-season record means to him and his team, per Michael Lee of The Vertical:

And then, after the Warriors presumably trounce Memphis and head into history, alone, as the greatest regular-season team of all time, they'll start all over.

Golden State won't miss the mental fatigue of the record chase or the conflicting goals it presented.

The postseason will offer a fresh beginning and a singular aim. That uncomplicated pursuit, coupled with the confidence earned in Sunday's win, could propel the Warriors to even higher peaks.

And that's saying something for a team one win away from climbing higher than anybody ever has.

That's Cold, Wizards

Officially eliminated from playoff contention Friday, those mean-spirited Washington Wizards proved spite—or maybe the freedom of having nothing to play for—can be pretty good motivators. Washington, sans John Wall (knee) played spoiler to the Charlotte Hornets, snatching a 113-98 home win that seriously compromised the Hornets' shot at home-court advantage in the first round. 

Jealousy could also have been in play, per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post:

If it makes the Wizards feel any better, the Hornets sure didn't sustain their defense in Sunday's game, surrendering 50 points in the paint and barely putting up a fight against a depleted Washington attack.

The idle Boston Celtics are now one game up on the Hornets in the East's fourth position. Charlotte will get a head-to-head crack at the Celtics in Boston Monday, but the Celts will own the head-to-head tiebreaker even if the Hornets win.

That means Charlotte must win its final game of the season against the Orlando Magic Wednesday and get help via another Celtics loss to the Miami Heat in their season finale. That's not a an impossible scenario, but it feels awfully improbable—what with the Celtics having already taken two wins from the Hornets in Charlotte.

The Wizards face a potential offseason overhaul and should feel pretty terrible about the way they've wasted this season. But hey, they might have at least royally screwed things up for the Hornets.

So there's that.

The Waiting Is the (Second) Hardest Part

LOS ANGELES, CA  - APRIL 10: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 10, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks couldn't extend their season-best six-game winning streak, falling 98-91 to the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday. As a result, Dirk Nowitzki and friends will have to postpone whatever celebration they had planned for a clinched playoff berth.

Chances are, the festivities would have included collapsing into an exhausted heap.

Dallas has worked ridiculously hard to overcome a tough schedule, injuries and age to get its magic number to one. The Clippers, playing their regular rotation and getting Blake Griffin's best performance since returning from injury/suspension, didn't seem interested in cutting the Mavs a break.

Dallas will get another chance to clinch at Utah Monday, and one more against San Antonio Wednesday. Though most of the hard work is over, Dallas could still use one final push. Hopefully, it'll come from J.J. Barea, the team's most consistent scorer during this home stretch. He missed the game against L.A. after injuring his groin against the Memphis Grizzlies Friday, and his prognosis remains uncertain, per Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

Griffin finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists—by far his prettiest post-return stat line.

"We are going to figure it out," head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters Friday after Barea went down. "That's all I can tell you. When you lose guys, you lose versatility. We are going to have to be resourceful."

You have to wonder how much Dallas will have left for the postseason after stressing itself to such an extreme getting there.

Nowitzki, 37, has played 29 of the last 30 games, forgoing rest to help compensate for the absences of Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams. He, like the rest of the Mavs, will have to find some kind of third reserve tank to compete against whoever their first-round foe winds up being.

Still, there's a nobility in the struggle. Dallas has had plenty of chances to collapse, but has so far refused to fall. As was the case before Sunday's loss: One more win, and the wiped-out Mavs are in.

It's All A Matter of Perspective

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 10:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 10, 2016 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or usi
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

You can't get too far down the road worrying about the Mavericks without acknowledging they've got it considerably better than the Houston Rockets.

James Harden scored 40 points, overshadowing 35 from Kobe Bryant in his Houston farewell, to keep the Rockets alive a little while longer. Houston's 130-110 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers meant elimination, though practically imminent, would have to wait.

One more Mavericks win means the seventh seed is statistically out of the question. And if Utah drops a game, the Rockets still have to win out to finish eighth.

Also, Harden made history for a less-than-ideal reason, per StatMuse:

The Rockets will play the rest of the season on a tightrope...without a net beneath them. 

The Jazz Are Convenient

Because they let us sketch out the West playoff picture in full. Following a 100-84 win over the Denver Nuggets in which Trey Lyles filled in for Derrick Favors with a career-high 22 points, the Utah Jazz stayed a game ahead of the Rockets.

Here's how it all shakes out heading into the final week of the regular season:

The TBD Section of the West Playoff Race
TeamRecordGames Back
5. Portland Trail Blazers43-3829
6. Memphis Grizzlies42-3829.5
7. Dallas Mavericks41-3930.5
8. Utah Jazz40-4031.5
9. Houston Rockets39-4132.5
NBA.com

Bigger picture, Lyles is going to be one of the most impactful third bigs in the league next year, and he showed why against Denver. Stretching the floor with four made triples in eight attempts, he gave the Jazz a fascinating new look alongside Gobert. Though it's true Favors and Gobert work brilliantly together (the Jazz's net rating is plus-4.2 with the two of them on the floor), Lyles is a perfect change of pace.

It's fine to be excited about Utah inching closer to a playoff spot. But the real enthusiasm should be directed toward this frontcourt's future.

Indy's In With a Bang

Apr 8, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) during a break in the action against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Indiana 111-98. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers annihilated the Brooklyn Nets by a final of 129-105, and now all eight playoff teams in the East are locked in.

Locked out: the Chicago Bulls.

Tom Thibodeau, your thoughts?

Almost everything beneath the first two spots in the East can still change over the final few days of the season. Indiana and the Detroit Pistons could swap spots between seventh and eighth, while positions 3-6 aren't yet officially settled either.

Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com. Accurate through games played April 10.