The Warriors’ Road Woes Could Earn Them A Rare And Unpleasant Trip To Beamtown
10:42 AM EDT on March 16, 2023
For those few hardy people who marvel at the fact that the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings reside 86 miles apart but in 37 years have never played a meaningful game against each other, last night was another tease that this might finally be the year. On the one hand, the Kings beat Chicago because De’Aaron Fox is the best bet in the league for the basket that must be made. On the other, the Warriors played on the road which is thinly disguised code for lost.
Thus, we are one step closer to that special moment when the two teams can no longer act as strangers … when the ascendant team is Sacramento and the one in a slow but noticeable decline is San Francisco ... when even Stephen Curry on fire cannot sufficiently warm the room when it is someone else's.
Curry dropped 50 on the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night in a losing effort because the Warriors were playing the Clippers in Los Angeles. That's the only reason—the Warriors away from home. Oh sure, their defense is demonstrably worse away from home, but that's just metrics. They have lost nine straight (and failed to cover each time), and have the same overall road record as the Detroit Pistons, 7-27, which is why their place in the sixth and final non-play-in spot in the Western Conference is so tenuous. Last night's 134-126 loss was not only typical of their shoddy workmanship outside the 415, it was also the first of a five-game roadie that will almost surely plunge them deep into play-in territory and maybe worse. Right now, fading them away is the best bet in the sport because they have shown no interest in altering their mindset by invoking the winning chemistry they always liked to cite in the good times.
Put another way, Curry failed the team by not going for 60 because nobody else is going to save them, and even him going 20-for-28 from the field still earned them an eight-point loss.
There is, however, a potential upside, and that is that while the Warriors are almost monomaniacal in their pursuit of the funniest 42-40 record in NBA history, they could conceivably survive the play-in and end up playing the second-seeded Kings in the postseason for the first time ever. Not just in the 37 years they have shared the untrammeled joys of driving past the Nut Tree on Highway 80, but ever. The Kings have played the St. Louis Bombers in the postseason more often than the Warriors.
And while we will defer to Comrade Redford on the more arcane Kings matters, we know this much. The Warriors and Kings have never had winning records in the same season since the Kings left Kansas City, and the only two times they were close in the standings, they were battling for 13th in the conference. The Warriors held on both times.
It has, in other words, been the worst geographical rivalry in all of North American sports in that it literally does not exist except as a hashish dream for those Kings fans unburdened by human relationships, careers, or in some cases fixed addresses. And this might be their moment at last.
The only thing the Kings must do is finish second, unless they catch the suddenly stuttering Nuggets and win the West outright. They can very well do this, as they have now graduated from "too young to make a playoff run" to "not a ridiculous choice to reach the conference final." And the Warriors have strengethened their place in the play-in netherworld (or worse, to be fair) by being a methane factory on the road. Of their final seven, only two—at Houston and at Portland on the final day of the year—seem winnable for them, and in no way are we advocating that they will. Put another way, we don't believe Curry at age 34 can score 420 points in those seven games to give the Warriors a counterpuncher's chance.
So there's the bonus payoff in an already rich season for Kings fans—to finally look their haughty and disdainful neighbors in the eye at last and force them to meet their gaze. The Kings are a weird team but a good one; the Warriors, weirder and much less appealing. Their magic is now a rumor, their chemistry a blown-up high school bio lab, their resiliency in the face of adversity (or luggage tags) a story parents tell their children when they want to explain the concept of bygone days.
In short, this is Sactown's moment. It is simply up to them to hold serve and hope Curry doesn't start shooting 80 percent.