This is where the Warriors are now — 10th place and in March Madness mode

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors find themselves as the butt of the Western Conference Play-In Tournament, needing two wins to make the actual playoffs. A loss this week pushes them closer to the inevitable end of their era.

That’s the anticlimactic conclusion to 82 games: the No. 10 seed. And their latest spin is they play well with their backs against the wall.

It’s true. The best players on this team have been through epic postseason triumphs, responding to several of the brinks to which they were pushed. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney — they have earned credibility in this situation.

Yet, after 82 games, it’s also clear the must-win boost is but the lone remaining hope to salvage this season. Though it’s built on their history of meeting moments, it’s also the last remaining juice with which to baste this jive turkey of a season.

This is where they are now.

“It just feels like we need to go win,” Green said Sunday after watching the Warriors beat the Utah Jazz, 123-116, in a black sweatsuit and green cement Jordan 3s. “But it’s exciting. You know, it’s do or die. Probably feels more NCAA Tournament-ish. Kind of give you that feel. … We’ve just got to go win.”

Legacies built in June don’t feel right in March Madness.

It’s hard to find confidence they can pull this off, yet their doing so would make perfect sense. Welcome to the betwixt that is the Warriors. They always give you a reason to believe they can pull it off, tempered by evidence those days are over. They’re still good enough to beat almost any opponent, especially a flawed one. Simultaneously, they aren’t good enough to summon their best at will, and less often can overcome the opponent’s best.

The Warriors could lose to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, and it would be an outcome absent of novelty. If they bowed out of this season so unceremoniously, swathed in mediocrity right along with the Chicago Bulls or Atlanta Hawks, it would be unworthy of their resume but certainly befitting of this particular campaign. Of course, they could also boat race the Kings, outclassing their younger bros up north as they did last postseason, all in the name of nostalgia.

You just can’t know with this team.

But what we do know, what the exhaustive NBA season tends to clarify, is they end this season farther from their goal than when it started. The only way to shift that reality now is to make the playoff run worthy of their conviction.

A year ago, when the then-defending champion Warriors finished as a No. 6 seed and had to go to Sacramento for games 1 and 7, that was considered a down season. And when the Warriors were finally ousted in the second round, it was abnormal to go home in May after six straight NBA Finals trips in years when Curry, Green and Thompson were healthy.

“It’s different, but something you must embrace,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a shot at it. It’s all you can ask for. We put ourselves in position to have success on the road. We’ve been playing very well on the road, especially as of late. It’s different, obviously, than it was in 2022. But whatever. It’s still basketball. We have a lot of experience to lean on.”

The pervasive theme then, echoed in the halls of Arena after their Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in last season’s playoffs, was how they’d maximized their roster — a dual message of how close they were, ending among the four best in the West, and how they needed more to get there.

They came into this season feeling like they added what they needed. They traded for Paul; drafted two productive rookies, Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis; and cleared rotation space for budding star Jonathan Kuminga.

Plus, Curry played 74 games, his most since 2016-17. Thompson played 77 games, the most since he returned from back-to-back season-ending injuries. Wiggins played 71 games after just 37 last season.

It produced two more wins.

The result is their lowest finish in the Western Conference since the injury-robbed 2019-20 season. This is where they are now.

The story is not complete. They could alter the narrative. They could win back-to-back road games to get into the playoffs — at Sacramento and at the loser of the Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans. They could knock off the inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder, the top seed in the West and considered the most vulnerable because of their youth. Such an upset would pit the Warriors in a series against the Los Angeles Clippers or Dallas Mavericks. Though the Warriors would be underdogs, it’s not outlandish to envision. Dallas has been one of the best teams since the All-Star break, and the Clippers are loaded at the top of their roster. But both teams have flaws. Winning that series would put the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

See how easy it is? To conflate what’s possible with what’s likely. To apply past greatness in current paradigms. To rationalize a better existence for these Warriors.

Stephen Curry

The experienced Warriors say they play well with their backs against the wall. We’ll soon find out whether that continues into the do-or-die Play-In Tournament. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

As coach Steve Kerr contends, this is a better team than the Warriors cobbled together last season. Still, they lost ground in their pursuit of a fifth championship as the best in the conference made greater strides than Golden State. Nine teams in the West are better than these Warriors. Nine. That’s a jarring conclusion for a team featuring such greatness.

This entire season has been the Warriors expecting, promising, to find their stride. Eventually, history proclaimed, they’d land somewhere among the contenders, where their resumes suggest they belong. But this season was a bender of delayed gratification.

They never solved the close-game struggles that figured to be their wheelhouse. They never conquered their home woes, one of the more puzzling elements of the season. They never found their way up the conference ladder to the sixth seed.

They eventually found a stride, going 25-12 after January. But when they had the chance to lock up the No. 8 seed, the last conquest of the regular season, the Warriors confirmed their woes were unconquered. They lost another close game, at home, with stakes on the line, to a beatable New Orleans squad.

It would suggest an upgrade is needed, a significant one, somewhere. The other option, certainly being presented to owner Joe Lacob by someone fiscally responsible, is that they cut costs and regroup. End the era now instead of chasing its shadow.

One more run could change that. One more Warriors-esque kick could prove they are a few tweaks away from being back. Of course it’s possible. It’s Curry. It’s Green. It’s Thompson. Odds be damned.

Their backs are against the wall. It’s do or die. Win or go home. They’re built for this March Madness-style setup. Right, Klay?

“Never played in that. Can’t relate to that,” Thompson, the Washington State product, said as he ended the interview by walking off. He got a few steps away before shouting an addendum. “The NIT though. That’s the same format.”

This is where they are now.

You can buy tickets to every NBA game here.

(Top photo of Klay Thompson during Friday’s game against the Pelicans: Kavin Mistry / Getty Images)


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