The reference is to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has famously — and often successfully — rested his regulars at times during the NBA’s marathon season. After the Warriors wore down in the second round of the playoffs against the Spurs last year, Jackson isn’t taking any chances.
The third-year coach is trying to give his banged-up players breaks during the season’s stretch run in hopes of getting healthier for the most important games of the year. The strategy is one the Warriors have rarely had the luxury to consider, and Jackson knows some fans could criticize him if it backfires.
“If Pop rests guys and they lose, it’s Pop. If I rest guys and I lose, I’m on the hot seat,” Jackson said, chuckling. “So I don’t think it’s the same thing.”
Some injuries are more pressing than others.
Starting swingman Andre Iguodala missed Tuesday night’s win over the Orlando Magic because of tendinitis in his right knee, the first of at least three straight games he is expected to miss. He has been shut down from all basketball activity.
Center Andrew Bogut sat out against Orlando with inflammation in his surgically repaired left ankle, and backup Jermaine O’Neal got the night off to rest. Both big men participated in Wednesday’s light practice, including the “play-in” portion of a team 3-point contest organized by Stephen Curry, who modeled the bracket-style competition after the NCAA tournament.
While Bogut and O’Neal could return for today’s home game against Milwaukee or Saturday’s showdown against San Antonio, an oddity in the schedule gives Jackson the option to prolong their rest. The Warriors have five days off between hosting San Antonio and a visit by Memphis on March 28.
“It’s crazy, because we probably looked at the schedule when it was handed out and said, ‘Why in the world would we have a five-day break at the end of the year?’” Jackson said. “Then you look now and you say, ‘It’s much-needed.’ We’re a no-excuse team, but we’ve got guys who have been beaten up.
“We’ve been trying to mix and match, create lineups, play guys extended minutes, go longer with different groups. There’s a method to the madness, and now I think it’s important for us to do whatever we can to continue to win and get to that extended break where we can recover.”
At this point, playoff seeding is no longer paramount.
The Warriors (43-26) began Wednesday in sixth place in the jammed Western Conference standings. They’re 1½ games behind Portland and 1½ games ahead of idle Dallas.
The Warriors believe no matter where they finish — so long as they finish in one of the eight playoff seeds — the road to the NBA Finals will be just as difficult. They’re 12-4 since the All-Star break — tied with the Spurs for the most wins during that time — and would have to completely collapse over the final 13 games to miss the playoffs, regardless of who’s on the floor.
“You always teach that no-excuse, next-man-up mentality,” Curry said.
The Warriors showed just how dangerous they could be in the postseason when they were healthy last year. They finished 47-35 to earn the conference’s sixth seed and upset Denver in the opening round before losing in six games to San Antonio, which was eliminated by Miami in the finals.
Curry and Bogut battled ankle injuries throughout the playoffs, often needing to take anti-inflammatory injections just to play. David Lee missed time with a torn right hip flexor and was limited when he returned. And backup center Festus Ezeli played through a right knee injury that required surgery, which has sidelined him all of this season, though the team is hoping he can come back soon.
“It’d be nice to be in a scenario,” Lee said, “that we can get a spot somewhat secured so coach can use his discretion the final couple games.”