As the Golden State Warriors get set for Wednesday's play-in game against the Los Angeles Lakers, they do so enjoying the underdog role they haven't been able to embrace since Stephen Curry and Draymond Green won their first NBA championship during the 2014-15 season.
After years of entering postseason games as the odds-on favorites to win the title, the eighth-seeded Warriors aren't expected to do much as their potential postseason run begins Wednesday against longtime rival LeBron James and the defending champions.
"I hope everybody hears the chatter," Curry said after Tuesday's practice. "Even at this point how we match up with LA or potentially with Phoenix or Utah if we get through this Play-in tournament and all that. Nobody thought we were even going to be in this position. A lot of people had us way, way, way down the standings coming in after Klay [Thompson] got hurt, so there's a lot of things that we already flipped on its head to this point, so we might as well keep going."
Warriors coach Steve Kerr wants his team to enjoy and appreciate the growth made this season as the group gets set for what it hopes will be a longer postseason run than many expect.
"It's a totally different kind of season, and so you celebrate the smaller victories in a season like this," Kerr said. "And I think that's really healthy. When you go five straight years of 'win the championship or bust,' it's incredibly stressful. It's exciting and you wouldn't want it any other way, but it adds up. And so I think this year has been refreshing in a lot of ways. It's been a really meaningful season for our franchise in a lot of ways and that's important."
Green echoed a similar sentiment recently, saying that after years of being "hunted," the Warriors are enjoying being "hunters" again as they enter Wednesday's game playing the best basketball of their season -- having won 15 of their last 20 games. As Kerr broke down the ways in which his players have produced this season, he noted that even after all the accolades Curry and Green have earned, he believes this last stretch may be the pair's best.
"Draymond, to me, is playing as well as he's ever played," Kerr said. "So is Steph. Andrew Wiggins has found a great role with this team and has played at a high level ... this is all great stuff. It's so healthy for our organization. And within that you celebrate these victories, you celebrate the successes, because you're not in a position where if you lose everybody says 'Your season was a failure.' It brings a different perspective, and I think our players are enjoying the season quite a bit."
Curry certainly enjoyed the regular season after missing all but five games during the 2020-21 season because of a broken hand. He came back with a vengeance by winning the scoring title by averaging 32 points a game and vaulting himself back into the MVP conversation. After averaging 37.3 points a game in April and then helping the Warriors claw into eighth spot, Curry generated a lot of MVP support from players throughout the league -- including James.
"Obviously, I'm appreciative," Curry said. "He knows when he says something people pay attention so for him to speak on my MVP candidacy is definitely, I respect him for it, I appreciate it, we all know as competitors though, when the lights are on, I can talk about how great he is till I'm blue in the face and he can do the same, it doesn't change how we approach that competition when we're out there. And I won't be giving him a pass because he likes the way I played this year and vice versa."
As has been the case so many times over the years, if the Warriors want to get to where they want to go, they're going to have to go through James in order to do it -- at least to get the seventh seed on Wednesday. It's a challenge Kerr and his team seem ready for.
"We've probably played against LeBron 40 times over the last six, seven years, maybe more," Kerr said. "LeBron is always a brilliant basketball player in every facet and that includes his defense. The last time we were here he made two or three steals early in the game on some of our pet plays, kind of slips, so we've got to do a good job of executing and be aware of where he is and making sure we're making solid decisions."