SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors’ chances to advance in the NBA’s in-season tournament aren’t dead, but they are slim heading into the final two games of group play.
Golden State sits 1-1 with a thrilling two-point win in Oklahoma City earlier this month and a three-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in which Draymond Green was ejected for putting Rudy Gobert in a headlock — leading to a five-game suspension. As of Friday afternoon, that puts the Warriors third in their group behind the Timberwolves (2-0) and the Sacramento Kings (2-0). Behind them are the Thunder (1-2) and San Antonio Spurs (0-3).
The Warriors host the San Antonio Spurs on Friday facing a possible elimination and an opportunity to climb back into the driver’s seat.
They’ll be eliminated from the tournament’s next round if they lose to San Antonio and the Phoenix Suns beat the Memphis Grizzlies. Or they can be eliminated with a loss, a New Orleans Pelicans win and a Denver Nuggets win.
If they beat the Spurs, there’s an opportunity. The in-season tournament probably isn’t top-of-mind for a Warriors team that has lost seven of its last eight games and is to find its offensive identity and defensive footing. But there’s something to be said for the morale boost a tournament run can inspire. They’ve had three players ejected, one suspended and have mostly looked overmatched against the younger, spryer opponents.
They need a win.
Green will serve the final game of his suspension against the Spurs on Friday and return for the group play finale against the Kings in Sacramento on Tuesday. The Warriors winning out would get them back in the hunt.
Overall point differential in tournament games is a tiebreaker (after head-to-head) in group play and could determine the one wild-card team from each conference. The Warriors have a minus-1 point differential through two games, so they’ll need to make up ground to contend.
Though the Spurs trot out 7-foot-4 rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama, they are a team that the Warriors can theoretically exploit for a point differential edge. The Spurs have a 107.8 offensive rating and 120.0 defensive rating, both of which rank among the worst in the NBA.
The Kings are in better position to throw a wrench into their efforts, but the Warriors are 2-0 against Sacramento this year and Green will be back in the mix by then.
In the West, the Los Angeles Lakers are the first team to advance, having played all four group-round games and clinched a 4-0 record in their group. The Kings and Timberwolves also play Friday — if the Timberwolves beat the Sacramento, Golden State can take aim to surpass the Kings, at least, with a win against them on Tuesday.
Gary Payton II is questionable to play against the Spurs on Friday as he is still nursing a left ankle strain. Payton has missed the Warriors’ last three games after coming down on Chet Holmgren’s foot in last Thursday’s loss against Oklahoma City.
He has been practicing with the team, but said after shootaround on Friday that his ankle was “a little sore” and is still regaining full strength.
GROUP C STANDINGS (entering Friday)
Kings 2-0, +16—Timberwolves 2-0, +10WARRIORS 1-1, -1Thunder 1-2, +27Spurs 0-3, -52
WEST WILD-CARD STANDINGS
Timberwolves 2-0, +10—Suns 2-1, +13Nuggets 2-1, +9WARRIORS 1-1, -1Rockets 1-1, -3Thunder 1-2, +27Mavericks 1-2, -15Clippers 1-2, -15
Trail Blazers, Jazz, Grizzlies and Spurs eliminated from wild card.