Stop the presses! The Golden State Warriors are going to the playoffs.
With a record of 49-9, the team has clinched a berth with a mind-boggling 24 games to play. It sealed the deal on Saturday, Feb. 25, the earliest date ever. Last year’s record-breaking team did not wrap up the playoffs until Feb. 27. Sorry, Sacramento and Portland, you won’t be running down the Warriors this year.
But the Warriors going to the playoffs is hardly news. It was always a sure thing, about equivalent to the Dream Team beating Angola in 1992 or the Globetrotters winning whenever.
Constructing a scenario in which the Warriors did not make the playoffs this season would have strained the imagination of Ray Bradbury. An epic collapse? Trouble in the locker room? A bizarre gutting of the team? The Warriors actually got stronger in the off-season in most fans’ eyes, through the acquisition of Kevin Durant.
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to resume business as usual. Despite losing their opener to the San Antonio Spurs, by Nov. 10 they were alone in first in the West at 6-2. On Dec. 1, they were 16-2.
They haven’t yet clinched the top seed in the West, but their four-game lead over San Antonio looks formidable. Their margin over the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers is even greater, and it would give them the home-court edge should those teams meet in the N.B.A. finals, as almost everyone seems to expect.
That means the Warriors can ease up a little over the last month of the season. Last year, they were 20-4 in March and April while successfully chasing the regular-season wins record, and some blamed the strain for their loss in the playoffs’ final. Based on their pattern this season, we can expect some of their stars to be rested a lot more frequently down the stretch.
The real question about the Warriors, as it has been since June, when they blew a three-games-to-one lead to the Cavaliers, has nothing to do with the 82-game appetizer. It’s this: Will they retake the N.B.A. championship? We’ll find out this spring, and little that happened in the regular season will be remembered.
So don’t open the envelope just yet. The name inside might not be the real winner.