The Warriors play the Washington Wizards today (4 p.m., CSN Bay Area) with a couple milestones in reach.
One milestone is more important, but they are linked; one can’t happen without the other. The first is a three-game winning streak for the Warriors — the first for the team this season. The Warriors have won consecutive games four times, but have yet to put together three in a row.
If the Warriors can reach the first milestone — three consecutive wins — they’ll help their coach reach a far more important mark. Don Nelson, after Sunday’s 113-112 win against the Toronto Raptors, improved his career record to 1,332-1,060. He is tied with Lenny Wilkens for all-time career coaching wins and can become the new record holder with a win against Washington tonight.
The Warriors’ late-season run that has helped Nelson get to this point has been impressive. The team has won four of its six games since March 23 and two of three on the road after beginning the season with 30 losses in its first 34 road games. There has always been a lot of speculation about how much Nelson’s players dislike him, but judging by these results and from the looks of the dancing circle the players formed around Nelson after the Toronto win, that theory doesn’t apply to the players left on this roster. Ronny Turiaf is playing injured because he wants Nelson to get the record, and the rest of the team is playing as hard as I’ve seen them compete all season. It’s a nice testament to the relationship Nelson has developed with this makeshift roster.
The Wizards, who had a 16-game losing streak in March, have won two of three, so this game isn’t an automatic win. If the Warriors lose today, they’ll have five more games to help Nelson set the record, including against woeful Minnesota (15-62) on Wednesday.
There’s another important subplot to this game, though. The Warriors and Wizards have the same record (23-53) and are “competing” for draft lottery positioning. Right now, the Warriors, Wizards and Pistons are tied for the third position in the lottery. The Kings are in the mix, too, with a record of 24-53. The general consensus is that this is a two-star draft, meaning the top two projected selections — Kentucky point guard John Wall and Ohio State guard Evan Turner — are considered the only certain star players in this draft. So, the Warriors, Wizards, Pistons and Kings have something to lose for with only a few games remaining. Each of these teams will be included in the draft lottery for the first pick, but the better your record, the smaller your chance of landing the top selection. Look at the percentages:
1 (worst record): 25 percent
2. 19.9 percent
3. 15.6 percent
4. 11.9 percent
5. 8.8 percent
6. 6.3 percent
If the Warriors were to win tonight and continue to play to win in the last five games of the season, they could jeopardize their standing in the draft lottery, and as you can see by the percentages above, the difference between the third spot and the sixth spot (probably the lowest the Warriors could drop) is significant.
So, to tank or not to tank?
It’s hard to justify not competing. This is professional basketball after all. It goes against everything sports is supposed to be to try and intentionally lose. But, when you have a chance to draft a player like Wall (often compared to Derrick Rose or Rajon Rondo) or Turner (every draft expert compares him to Brandon Roy), you have to consider the positive future ramifications of losing right now. Even if you don’t like Wall or Turner, getting one of those top two picks will be a HUGE trade chip and could be used to get the Warriors a star big man.
Tanking isn’t honorable, but it’s part of the NBA. The Spurs are a model franchise because they purposefully tanked — twice. When players like David Robinson, Tim Duncan and LeBron James are available, teams tank. It’s a competitive decision aimed at improving a team’s future prospects. It’s cringe-worthy, but it’s part of the game.
That said, the Warriors should finish what they started and earn Nelson the record. After that happens, though, it would be a disappointment if the team won another game this season.