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Warriors growing weary as late season grind takes hold

With record in sight, Kerr likely to rest players before playoff march

POSTED: Mar 17, 2016 10:18 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr may sit his starters, including Steph Curry, more down the stretch to help them get rest in preparation to defend their title in the playoffs.

— The timing is what made the analysis so strange, just after his Warriors had played the Lakers, Magic, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Suns and Pelicans, just before the Knicks, and with all but L.A. at home, a schedule made for rejuvenation.

But there was Golden State coach Steve Kerr, saying it anyway.

The Warriors are feeling the grind, showing it enough in their looks to be obvious internally, feeling it enough in their legs to be a concern. Not a major concern because, hey, 61-6, but enough that it is noticeable and has become an issue to deal with heading toward their hoped-for date with history.

When a team is trying to earn its way into the conversation for one of the greatest ever by winning a second consecutive title and maybe with at least 73 victories in the regular season as part of the resumé, being followed by an extra-strength microscope is part of the deal. The playoffs are drawing near and the Warriors are the opposite of peaking. It's some kind of concern over the next few weeks.

"You can kind of see it in their eyes and their legs a little bit," said Kerr, who played on five title teams with the Bulls and Spurs. "I think you just get a feel as a coach and as a staff. You get a read on guys. You see how energetic they are, or not. It's something that every team that makes a championship run goes through. It really is a grind and if you're lucky enough to do it two, three, four years running, it really wears you out. That's the challenge."

Life as the hunted, as opposed to the fun bunch trying to put together a postseason run, is kicking in, they are finally conceding. It's not just about the challenge of being the defending champions, though, not when a 24-0 start to the new season could have driven opponents to want to be the first to beat them, not as the home winning streak dating back to 2014-15 has reached 50 in a row to set a league record, and not as Golden State wants at least a tie of the all-time mark of 72 wins and preferably to stand alone at 73 or beyond.

Warriors Championship Parade: Curry and Kerr

Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Steve Kerr embrace the fans and show off the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the Warriors Championship Parade.

How last season ended, with a parade, and how this one started, with some records and the chance for more, is taking a toll even for a team that plays with a joy and has enviable chemistry behind the scenes. The tangible impact might be Kerr reinforcing his plan to build rest into the schedule, which he has said all along would be the plan, even at the expense of 73, but is probably all the more definite now. Any chance to convince him that the Warriors are energized by the chance at history and that a lot of players in their 20s can handle the burden of the chase just disappeared.

".... I can tell this year's a little different from last year for our players," Kerr said as part of an answer when he was asked what he learned about coaching while playing for Phil Jackson in Chicago, noting Jackson's skill at pacing teams that regularly played deep into the playoffs. "Last year it was brand new. The excitement never really wore off. We got off to a quick start and we just kept rolling. This year it feels a little more tiresome. Just after a long year last year and doing it again this year, people coming after you every single night, yeah, it wears you down. But what a great position to be in. And we hope we're in this position next year too."

"Just because of what we went through and now the streak," said guard Shaun Livingston, a key reserve. "Every game is kind of like the Super Bowl. I think we're kind of settling in. Maybe the excitement to play us isn't as much toward the end of the year. But we're just trying to get through it."

The calendar should help. The Warriors left the embrace of Oracle Arena after trouncing the Knicks on Wednesday, just after Kerr's comments, for a three-game trip that starts in Dallas as a possible first-round preview on Friday (League Pass, 8:30 p.m. ET) and moves to San Antonio on Saturday (ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET) for a showdown of the two best teams. That back-to-back should get the blood pumping, before the finish at Minnesota on Monday (League Pass, 8 p.m. ET).

Once that trip is done, the Warriors will be into their final dozen games of the regular season, with nine at home and history probably on the line. That will be full playoff-prep mode, when, if all goes according to plan, they will be in a different place mentally than now.

"We feel it," Livingston said. "I think it's over the course. It's over the sum of the season as the games start to get along. We're getting into March and then April. We feel it. But at the same time, in the next week or two there should be some excitement also because of going into the playoffs."

Just trying to get through it will be done by then. Kerr should be able to see that in their eyes and legs, too.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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