OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors had their chance to celebrate their record-setting regular season before turning their focus to even bigger goals.
The 73 wins that put the Warriors in the record books and left the rest of the NBA chasing them all season are meaningless right now. When the Warriors take the court Saturday to open their first-round series against the Houston Rockets, they will be on even footing with the other 15 playoff teams.
“The regular season doesn’t mean anything at this point,” Curry said Friday. “We have two months to play our best basketball and compete and get it done.”
Having successfully completed their chase for 73 wins to break the previous mark of 72 set by Chicago 20 years ago, the Warriors have targeted a new number.
With 16 postseason victories, the Warriors will have a second straight championship to go along with their single-season wins record and a case for having the most successful season in NBA history.
Anything short of that will make the regular season record somewhat meaningless, adding another level of pressure for the postseason run.
“That just goes with the territory,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re defending champs. When you’re the favorite, it’s a little different dynamic. Last year even though we won 67 games and were the one seed, people still wondered if we could get it done. It’s a different feel, a different dynamic. We still have to win 16 games.”
The chase for the record has provided the Warriors have been dealing with a playoff-style environment the past few weeks. There’s been increased media scrutiny, the knowledge that any slipup could derail their chances and opponents playing their best in hopes of knocking off the league’s top team.
Golden State has survived that gauntlet well with the exception of losing home games to Boston and Minnesota in a span of five days early in April. But the Warriors rebounded to win their final four games to break Chicago’s record.
“Really all year we got everybody’s best shot,” Curry said. “Whether the atmosphere was there or not, on the court it felt like playoff intensity for the majority of our games. We feel confident we’re ready for the moment.”
Houston had to play it out until the end too, needing a win in the regular season finale just to clinch the playoffs.
The Rockets’ reward is a rematch with the Warriors, who knocked out Houston in five games last year in the Western Conference finals.
“You have to face them anyway, either its first round or the Western Conference finals,” star James Harden said. “We have a great opportunity. A lot of people are counting us out.”
Here are some things to watch in the series:
RAINING 3S: The analytics-driven Rockets took the second most 3-pointers in the NBA this season with 2,533. But the Warriors are in a different league when it comes to long-ranger shooting. Despite taking only 59 more 3s than Houston, the Warriors made 199 more on the way to a record 1,077 for the season. Leading the way is Curry, who shattered his single-season mark of 286 by hitting 402. Klay Thompson hit 276 of his own — more than any player in NBA history other than Curry.
HANDLING HARDEN: Harden averaged 33 points, 10.5 rebounds and nine assists in losing the first two games of last year’s series in Oakland. He struggled after that as the Warriors mixed in the bigger Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes defensively. Harden shot 3 for 16 in a Game 3 loss and then went 2 for 11 with 12 turnovers in the elimination fifth game.
BEVERLY THE PEST: The Rockets played last year’s series without point guard Patrick Beverly, a defensive specialist known to irritate opponents. Teammate Jason Terry says Beverly can even pester his own teammates.
“Even on the bus, It doesn’t even matter,” Terry said. “It’s Patrick. He’s always going to get under people’s skin.”
QUICK TURNAROUND: The Warriors had been hoping to get the prime Sunday afternoon slot for their series opener and the extra day off that comes with it. Instead, they will have to play Game 1 on Saturday afternoon for the second straight year. That leaves both teams with only one real day of practice and no shootaround before the opener.
“I’m not annoyed. I’m just kind of surprised. But it shouldn’t make any difference,” said Kerr, who pointed out it was tougher on the Rockets because they had to travel.