No team has finished within five games of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA standings since the 2014-15 season, but that trend will likely break with the 47-22 Denver Nuggets breathing down the 48-22 Warriors' necks as the playoffs loom on April 13.
Head coach Steve Kerr noted the difference between this year's regular-season closing stretch compared to last year specifically when he spoke with reporters following his team's 117-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves:
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Kerr on mindset down stretch:"It's definitely a different mindset. Each game takes on more importance. Last year I think the final 20 games we kind of knew we were going to be the 2 seed It's a little different this year and I think it's going to help us prepare for the playoffs"
No drama occurred during the final few weeks of last year's regular-season stretch, as the Warriors finished seven games behind the first-place Houston Rockets and nine games ahead of the third-place Portland Trail Blazers.
Golden State can't afford to cruise into the 2019 postseason. In addition to Denver's standings spot, the Rockets are also 3.5 games behind the Warriors with the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand.
Granted, the Warriors aren't fighting for their playoff lives like the teams hovering around the .500 mark in the Eastern Conference, and finishing second (or even third) in the West wouldn't be a death sentence for their championship chances.
But these games are still important. Oracle Arena is a house of horrors for opposing teams in the playoffs, a fact made evident when a boisterous crowd willed the No. 8 seed Warriors over the No. 1 Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 postseason.
Golden State has also lost just one home postseason game since Kevin Durant joined the team in 2016. Therefore, obtaining the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage until the NBA Finals is huge.
In addition, the Warriors don't need more motivation and help to get ready for the playoffs. They've already won three championships in four seasons and are the clear favorite to take a fourth in five years, per Vegas Insider. Hearing Kerr say that this closing stretch will help Golden State prepare for the postseason can't be something that their opponents want to hear.
Although these games take on added importance as Kerr said, most of their opponents won't be playoff quality. Only four of their final 12 contests are versus teams in the top eight of their respective conference, although one of them is the aforementioned Nuggets. That potential Western Conference Finals preview will take place on April 2 at Oracle Arena.