Warriors mindset — not first playoff opponent — matters most

The week leading up to the playoffs, for the Warriors, will be all about getting into a Minnesota Fats mindset.

Fats, the late legendary pool hustler, had elite skills, sure, but for him it was all about feel and attitude.

There will be a lot of talk and debate about which potential opponent would give the Warriors the best chance of surviving the first round.

The Warriors will recuse themselves from the discussion because they know it’s not about who they play, it’s about How? ‘Or’ What they play. Andre Iguodala put it in more cosmic terms, after Thursday night’s inartistic but somewhat encouraging 128-112 win over the Lakers in the final home game of the regular season.

I asked Iguodala if it’s fair to say the Warriors are more concerned with their own preparation than who they’ll play in the first round.

“One hundred percent,” Iguodala said. “It’s a basketball-just energy league. You know, you talk about the basketball gods, this karma, playing the karmic way, and you can’t try to maneuver or plan your way to get further and further (into the playoffs).

“And I think that’s how we approach it, I think you have to play good basketball. Like, even when you lose in this league, if you play the right way, the way you’re supposed to come on, you’ll get there eventually. Tonight we didn’t do that well, but we did our job in the second half.

None of the Warriors are likely to say that, but worrying about the first-round game is below this team. Even after two seasons out of the playoffs, and even with Stephen Curry still injured, the Warriors are the Warriors. They may not be on the same pace now as they started the season 29-7, but this is the team they think they will be when Curry returns.

For the Warriors, next week is less about making the first-round opponent sweat and more about getting into the Warriors mindset.

“We’re going to try to win all three games,” coach Steve Kerr said before Thursday’s game. “We go into this thought, ‘Let’s build momentum.’ If we can capitalize on those last two wins and get through the next week on a winning streak, I think that will serve us very well.

No simple task. The Warriors immediately stumbled, falling behind a Lakers JV team with its three biggest stars with “injuries”. The Warriors eventually walked away, but phew, that rocky start.

Momentum and confidence, Kerr said, is what you want for the playoffs. He noted that during a tough first half last season, “I didn’t feel like we had a lot of confidence as a team. The most important thing was to find something at the end of the year, to create momentum and to follow it for a good start to the year.

That’s what Kerr will be looking to cultivate on his team in the final two games of the regular season and in practice. Sentiment and attitude, like Minnesota Fats. Cruise control won’t cut it.

“I think the last two games were important for us to feel the win, to feel good about ourselves,” Kerr said. “That’s really what it’s about tonight, it’s about us, obviously, with them resting everyone.

“What we talked about in our team meeting is that it’s all about us, our performance and our level of play before the playoffs next week, so it’s an important game for us. .”

There’s work to be done, assuming the Warriors’ first-round opponent will be tougher than the Lakers without LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis.

Kerr joked before the game that he hoped the Warriors’ first-round foe would be Wichita State. Going into Thursday’s game, the Warriors might have struggled against Wichita State.

Still, it’s an NBA cliché that an understaffed team will almost always give a spirited performance. So while one of the Warriors’ goals was to pick up the pace and outrun the Lakers, the Lakers won the quick points battle, 22-10.

On the plus side, the Warriors’ signature ball movement looked good, with 39 assists. Jordan Poole had a career high of 11, another encouraging sign of his development as an all-around player. And Iguodala has had seven assists off the bench, a possible sign The Babysitter is in top form for the playoffs.

Curry’s condition is the biggest X-factor, but for the Warriors, it’s all about straightening up emotionally. Kerr and the team leaders – Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Curry – know what they need to do before the first game of the first round. It’s like the tagline from an old TV ad for some kind of dinner-time product:

“Don’t just set the table. Set the mood.”

Scott Ostler is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @scottostler

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