Someone forgot to tell the Golden State Warriors they had little to play for at this point in the season.
It would have been understandable if, having already secured the top spot in the Western Conference, they had had more than a few lulls as the postseason approaches.
But as they showed on Thursday, thanks to an off-balance shot by Harrison Barnes that beat Phoenix, they were unwilling to accept defeat even when they had all but secured the best record in the NBA, which would mean home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Golden State earned that distinction Saturday night with its 12th consecutive win and 17th in 18 games.
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Coach Steve Kerr played on the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that won an NBA-record 72 games. The Warriors haven’t proven to be an all-time great team, but they have the ingredients to be a champion.
Golden State’s efficient, high-scoring offense coupled with an aggressive and at times suffocating defense have the Warriors adding to their franchise record for wins, which is at 63.
Kerr, who could win NBA Coach of the Year honors this season, has managed to get the most out of his stars, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, while maximizing perhaps the deepest roster in the league.
His challenge lately has been how to keep Golden State ready for the postseason without taxing the team too much down the stretch.
Kerr’s goal is to keep the Warriors in rhythm, and their winning streak would indicate he’s succeeding.
Kerr’s experience as a player is helping him manage the situation.
“You can’t sit guys completely and expect them to maintain their flow and their rhythm going into the postseason,” Kerr said. “It’s why we’re playing people. ... We try to balance rest with it.”
The Warriors’ roster allows them to do that, with two former All-Stars (Andre Iguodala and David Lee) in the second unit, along with former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa.
Barbosa, however, isn’t the man who primarily runs the second team; that’s the sometimes undervalued point guard Shaun Livingston.
The depth and cushion in the standings allowed the Warriors to rest forward Draymond Green as he recovers from a lingering shin injury.
“We’re definitely pretty fortunate this year,” Barnes said. “We have a lot of depth; guys step up when guys have off-shooting nights. Obviously, Steph and Klay are going to do their part, but everyone is pitching in.”
That includes Barnes, who struggled in a reserve role last season.
The forward missed six of his first seven shots and blew two key defensive assignments against Phoenix but atoned for that with his game winner with 0.4 seconds to play.
Barnes, however, said the game-winning shot didn’t erase his earlier mistakes and that those problems must be fixed for the playoffs.
But even if he’s off, the Warriors are built to have someone step up.
“The story of our team this year is that we have so many different guys contributing each night,” Barnes said.
Even on nights that don’t matter in the big picture, the Warriors are making them count.
The Indiana Pacers might not make the playoffs, but the report that Paul George will play Sunday is the best NBA news of the weekend.
George suffered a gruesome broken leg in a scrimmage with Team USA on Aug. 1 and was expected to be out as long as a year.
However, the All-Star forward’s leg has healed enough for him to return in limited minutes.
The Phoenix Suns’ postseason hopes took a hit with their five-game losing streak entering Saturday night’s home game against Utah.
They’ve been hurt by last-second shots more than once this season, including Barnes’ game winner in Oakland.
Their fortunes might be better if point guard Brandon Knight, the key player acquired at the trade deadline, was healthy. He had missed two consecutive games with a sprained ankle entering Saturday.
Without Knight, the Suns are sputtering back to the lottery.
“There were days I told myself I wanted to shut it down and get ready for the summer. But it’s great having the staff that we have to push me through and keep me going. Again, I’ve had days where I’m sure they hated me and I hated them, but we got through it. They did a great job being in my corner.”
George, after the announcement that he would play Sunday.