Kawakami: Good Warriors karma, good road vibes and a realistic goal — get to OKC and give the Thunder a scare

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Kawakami: Good Warriors karma, good road vibes and a realistic goal — get to OKC and give the Thunder a scare

SAN FRANCISCO — Three more wins. If you’re looking for an appropriately calibrated target for this wildly uncalibrated Golden State Warriors season, I’m offering up a simple one right here.

Count them down: Beat the Kings in Sacramento on Tuesday, just like the Warriors memorably pulled off in a do-or-die Game 7 in the first round last season; then go back on the road and qualify for the first round by beating the loser of the 7-8 game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers; and finally, the Warriors can conclude this season somewhat honorably by winning at least one game and maybe putting a minor scare into the 1-seed Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.

If the veteran, title-proven Warriors can summon some of the old, good stuff a few more times in the next few weeks, won’t that be enough evidence that it’s worth keeping most of this core together for one more go-for-broke season? I think so.

But if the Warriors don’t make it fairly deep into the first round, if they just look too old to pull off anything significant … that’d be falling below the qualifying line for a reasonably solid finish, IMO, and I don’t think the team’s front office and accountants would disagree.

Does that seem reasonable? Obviously, the Warriors want to win their fifth championship of this era and wouldn’t be overjoyed if they’re stopped anywhere short of that in the next few weeks. But the Warriors’ path as the Western Conference’s 10 seed is designed to be extremely rough because, well, nine teams finished ahead of them and deserve easier routes. We can judge the Warriors for the slip-ups and issues that led them to this fate, and absolutely it all plays into the conclusions that will come this summer.

But what about right now? What do the Warriors need to do to show that there’s still enough life and talent left around Stephen Curry to keep the core of this roster together and the payroll deep into the luxury tax?

Three more wins, that’s what I’m saying. Fight their way to the first round. Get to OKC. Get a game. Maybe even two. (Note: The Curry Warriors have won at least two games in all 29 of their playoff series.) Then see what happens.

And while Curry and the rest of the Warriors are rightly determined to remain in the moment and focus strictly on the next game, I think the leaders of this team mainly agree with this larger-picture standard.

“Not really concerned about this ‘next season’ conversation,” Curry said before the Warriors bused up to Sacramento on Monday; but then he continued with some additional perspective. “I think it’s pretty obvious it’d be a disappointment if we’re not in a playoff series and have an opportunity to compete at that level. You can make up whatever narrative that would bring up.”

When this Warriors season is over, however it ends, it’ll be judged in the context of everything that has happened before and everything that has to be applied to the future.

It will be viewed in the last remaining light of the Warriors’ dynasty and calculated with the faith that Curry probably has at least one more great season left in him. But also, there’s the understanding that Warriors owner Joe Lacob is unlikely to maintain the franchise’s record-setting $400 million total payroll commitment into next season without a realistic sense that a very deep run is possible next postseason. The best way to prove that? By going on a decent run this postseason — and racking up a few home playoff box-office payoffs along the way. (A reminder: the Warriors’ total revenue from early-round home dates is about $7 million per game.)

A good run could solidify Andrew Wiggins’ place on the roster next season after a very sluggish start this season. It could make Lacob much more amenable to paying Klay Thompson’s free-agent market rate this summer. It could soothe the lingering prickly feelings over the lost time and lost games during Draymond Green’s two suspensions. It could lead to the Warriors either bringing back Chris Paul or trading his contract for more talent, instead of just letting him walk for nothing to decrease the payroll.

A lot of things are in flux. A lot of things have stabilized with the Warriors’ big second-half run after a 19-24 start, but a 10th-place finish and quick Play-In exit would not be the calmest way to go into this offseason.

Stephen Curry

A Warriors run through the Play-In Tournament to force a series against the top-seeded Thunder just might be enough to keep it all together for one more try next season. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

For now, though, head coach Steve Kerr is either feeling a true sense of playoff serenity or trying to speak it into existence. The Warriors have been here before. They’ve been in better shape, but they’ve also been in worse — specifically last postseason and into the first part of this season.

“One of the things I’m most pleased about with the second half is just the sense of ease and peace that each guy seems to have,” Kerr said Monday. “I think Draymond and Klay are in a great place as opposed to early in the season. And that matters. That affects other people. So I really think this team has good chemistry. Draymond has been a great mentor for the younger guys the second half of the year. Wiggs is in a really good place.

“So it’s not just in our record, in our offensive and defensive rating. It’s the vibe. And it’s a good vibe. Obviously, we’re in a tough spot, we’ve gotta win two games just to get into the playoffs. Anything can happen. But I do really believe in this group.

“I believe in karma. I think this group has earned some good karma. So we’ll see what happens here.”

As Kerr noted later, the Warriors didn’t have much good karma last season but still managed to claw out that Game 7 victory over the Kings, largely due, of course, to Curry’s epic 50-point performance. And that game had ripple effects — winning that series plus playing the Lakers relatively well in the second-round loss that followed was enough to convince Warriors management to mostly keep things together. In fact, the Warriors’ big move was to get older, not younger, by trading Jordan Poole for CP3.

The next few games will have ripple effects, too. These huge games always do.

“I think just in terms of optimism and confidence in who we are and what we can do any given night, you have to maintain that, you have to believe it,” Curry said. “I think we do. It comes down to one game, and then one game, and then hopefully more. But we understand what it’s like in this type of environment, a must-win scenario, the history of last year with Sacramento. The vibes are, ‘Go win a basketball game;’ we know we can do that.”

It’s a weird situation: The Warriors’ clunky home record (21-20) this season sent them into 10th place and gave them this brutal road path, but their very strong 25-16 road record is what gives them hope that they can claw out of this spot.

Oh, and also, yes, the Warriors have a sparkling 39-27 postseason road record in the Kerr era (not counting Play-In games). Counting their non-elimination 7-8 game Play-In loss to the Lakers in 2021, the Warriors are 39-28 on the road in post-regular-season games. That’s an incredible number.

But their most famous road streak was ended in the Lakers series last postseason; during the Curry era, the Warriors had won at least one road game in 28 consecutive playoff series, from two years before Kerr’s arrival until the Warriors went 0-3 in L.A. in that series last May. (Before that Game 6 elimination, the Warriors were an amazing 4-0 in road elimination games in the Kerr era. Yes, every elimination loss for the Warriors before the Lakers series last year came at home.)

They have the pelts on the wall. They have played well to close this season, even in the mad post-All-Star break rush of 29 games (16 on the road) over the final 52 days of the regular season, which was partially due to the games that had to be rescheduled after the tragic death of assistant coach Dejan Milojević in January. They played themselves into this next challenge, all on the road if they’re good enough to keep on winning.

“Our last eight weeks has prepared us tremendously for it,” Draymond said Sunday. “We’ve been on the road pretty much the last month and a half, two months, quite a bit.

“We’ve fared pretty well on the road all year. So, know we’re capable of going and winning some road games. And when this team’s back is against the wall, I like how the group shows up. Not ideal, but it is what it is. We want to keep playing for much longer into this season.”

Draymond, Curry and all the others would never say that the goal is just to win three more games and head into the offseason. That’s definitely not their goal. They want to win every game and hold their fifth parade afterwards. But their goal was never to be the 10 seed, either. Here they are, though, with another shot to do some special things. If they get three more victories, then exit the stage, the Warriors will fall short of what they used to be but meet the fair standard for what they’ve got left and what can be reasonably expected for one more run next season.



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(Top photo of Stephen Curry: Amanda Loman / Getty Images)