Throughout the past several weeks, several players on the Golden State Warriors have been hesitant to talk about expectations for the playoffs.
No one was ready to assume anything, but that can change Sunday as the Warriors (44-32) have an opportunity to clinch their first playoff berth since the “We Believe” team in the 2006-07 season and second in the last 19 years.
It’s also the first time most of the roster has tasted this type of success at the NBA level.
Only Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bogut, Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins have been on playoff teams in the past, meaning two-thirds of the team’s regular nine-man rotation will be a playoff first-timer.
"This isn't a surprise to those guys in the locker room," coach Mark Jackson said. "They put the time in, they worked their tails off and this was a goal. People have counted out this group, people continue to count out this group. We're going to continue to chip away at each and every one of our goals.”
The Warriors’ magic number sits at two, but with ninth-place Utah (40-37) in town, they have the opportunity to clinch with a win.
Things have changed dramatically for the Jazz since March 24, when its loss to Dallas represented its fourth straight defeat and ninth in an 11-game stretch. Since then, it has won six of seven, albeit against lesser competition.
If Utah were to finish the regular season tied with the Lakers, it would get the No. 8 spot because it won the season series with Los Angeles.
For Golden State, getting in the playoffs is no longer the main priority -- positioning is.
Of the five potential first-round opponents, it’s clear the Warriors’ best matchup would be against the Clippers, who they took three of four from this year. Los Angeles, however, currently sits in the No. 4 spot and odds are slim it moves up to No. 3 for a potential series with Golden State.
Los Angeles has just six games left to make up a 2.5-game difference between it and Denver (53-24) and would also need to pass Memphis (51-25) to move up. As things sit, the Clippers have the No. 4 seed despite having a worse record than the Grizzlies because all division winners are guaranteed a top-four seed.
A seventh-place finish nearly assures Golden State a first-round meeting with either San Antonio (57-20) or Oklahoma City (56-20).