The Golden State Warriors started last season with a record 24 consecutive victories on their way to a historic 73-win campaign. But expect a little more trial and error and a little less intensity this time around, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“I don’t think we’ll have that this year,” Kerr said. “We’ve kind of been through that. We’d rather win a championship than set a record, that’s for sure.
“Last year we felt like we could do both — and we were pretty close — but we couldn’t pull it off. This year’s more about just growing and getting better and experimenting the first couple months of the season.”
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This approach is also framed by Kerr’s experience as a player on the Chicago Bulls teams that won three consecutive championships from 1996 to 1998.
When most fans think of the end of that run, they immediately summon the lasting image of Michael Jordan hitting the winning shot over Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals. Kerr remembers the difficult buildup, with Scottie Pippen fighting through a back injury, the Bulls falling behind by double-digits and facing the prospect of a Game 7 on the road to finish their long journey.
“We were running on fumes,” Kerr said. “I think the toll was over several years. That’s one of the reasons I think this year we’re going to pace ourselves somewhat … but we’re also better off having the new blood and the new life, because I think it will give us that boost.
“It doesn’t guarantee that were going to be better, but it changes the dynamics a little bit. I think it’ll make things a little fresher, and make it maybe a little easier for us to get through the regular season and get through the grind.”
The Bulls teams from 1996 to 1998 had 10 players along for all three seasons; the Warriors have only six players who were on the roster for the past two trips to the Finals, five who logged significant minutes, creating a balancing act for Kerr.
While the new players like Kevin Durant bring fresh perspective, it will also require Kerr to make greater use of the new and old players to develop chemistry.
Last year, the key players might have played a couple more games than normal because the team wanted to set the new regular-season record of 73 victories, although Kerr said it wasn’t physical fatigue that cost the Warriors.
“The toll was more emotional than anything,” Kerr said Friday, ahead of the Warriors’ preseason game against the Denver Nuggets. “Over time, that stuff adds up. That’s why LeBron [James] going to the Finals six straight years is, to me, one of the great accomplishments of all time. Like, how many guys have done that? Maybe Bill Russell was the last guy. I know Michael didn’t do it because he took a couple of years off. Larry Bird, Magic [Johnson] never did it. … Six is incredible.”
All of that extra basketball is one reason James has come to value time off during the regular season; he hasn’t played more than 77 games in any of the past four years. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson all played more than that last season.
Kerr is also mindful of the need to keep his star players on the court to satisfy the paying customers — especially with the amplified interest in this team from the addition of Durant. Kerr even plans to play his starters on both nights of preseason back-to-back games this weekend, against the Nuggets in Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers in Las Vegas.
“It’s a tricky issue on this team because people come out to see these guys play,” Kerr said. “I am sensitive to that. Not at the expense of our team’s health, but if guys are healthy, at the very minimum I want to throw them out there — for a few minutes, anyway — so fans get to see them play. But health always comes first.”