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Warriors enter the unknown as playoffs loom

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By Agence France-Presse

The Golden State Warriors will be heading into uncharted territory on Saturday as they open their NBA postseason campaign against the San Antonio Spurs missing star Stephen Curry and struggling to find their best form.

For the first time since head coach Steve Kerr took over in 2014-2015, the Warriors will not enter the playoffs as owners of the NBA’s best record, starting as second seeds in the Western Conference behind the Houston Rockets.

After last year’s emphatic march through the postseason, when Kerr’s men went 16-1 to clinch a second NBA finals crown in three seasons, beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, the Warriors looked poised to dominate for years.

Yet the aura of invincibility surrounding the Bay Area franchise has dimmed in the closing weeks of the regular season.

A knee injury to Curry has left the Warriors without one of their most potent attacking weapons, contributing to a poor run of results that has included 10 defeats in 17 games.

That sequence included a 119-79 pounding by the Utah Jazz on Tuesday to end the regular season on a downbeat note.

Kerr however is adamant that the regular season — both the wins and the losses — will count for little as the playoffs come into view, starting with Saturday’s series opener in Oakland against the Spurs.

“We won 58 games this season,” Kerr said. “But in the end, none of that matters. It’s what you do in the playoffs. That’s the test. That’s the challenge. We’ll see what happens.

“We’re trying to get back to the finals for the fourth year in a row. And only a few teams have been able to do that. So, that’s the challenge.”

With Curry’s injury status uncertain, it will be left to Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to demonstrate that the Warriors remain a playoff threat.

– Social media blackout –
Elsewhere On Saturday, Eastern Conference top seeds Toronto will open their campaign at home to Washington, while the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers — who finished their regular season with a 16th straight victory — host the Miami Heat.

Cleveland meanwhile will launch their bid to return to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year on Sunday, when they host the Indiana Pacers.

James has marked the start of the postseason with his now traditional social media lockdown, preferring instead to turn his attention exclusively to the task of leading his team through the playoffs.

“You have to keep the main thing the main thing,” James said this week. “In the postseason, you lose one game and it’s the end of the world. You win one game and everyone praises you. When the postseason happens, it’s one game at a time. That’s all that matters. The outside noise doesn’t matter.”

The Cavaliers arrive in the playoffs after a roller coaster season which was transformed after a frenzied series of deals before the trading deadline, which saw them acquire George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said how the new-look roster would fare under the intensity of the playoffs was an unknown.

“The last three years, before this year, we had pretty much in place, so we knew when the playoffs started, things we wanted to do, things we worked on all season, we knew we were capable of doing,” Lue said.

“But with the new guys we gotta see what they’re able to do, so it’s been tough trying to balance the two,” Lue said, giving a glimpse into the steely mindset that James taps into during the playoffs.

“A lot of the smiles are gone,” Lue said. “He’s a lot more focused. He gets everyone else focused, in the right mindset. He understands that when it comes to playoff time, this is our bread and butter.” (AFP)