OAKLAND • The Golden State Warriors have designs on earning the top seeding in the West, which will assure home-court edge through the play-offs.
But if finishing first means brushing aside his team's health concerns, then coach Steve Kerr is not prepared to take that chance.
The Warriors defeated the visiting Detroit Pistons 121-114 on Sunday, giving them a half-game lead over the second-placed Denver Nuggets, who were swatted 124-88 by the Indiana Pacers on the road.
The two-time defending National Basketball Association (NBA) champions, however, had to dig deep to earn the victory as they were without centre DeMarcus Cousins and swingman Andre Iguodala, who were given the night off to rest.
"Load management" has been a recurring theme among teams this season, including Golden State.
On Saturday, when the Warriors were crushed 126-91 on their home court by the Dallas Mavericks, they did not have Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston.
However, Kerr defended his decision to rest Cousins for the Pistons meeting, claiming he was working his way back to full fitness, having returned from a year-long Achilles injury only on Jan 18.
Golden State have won 50 regular-season games for six straight seasons.
He said: "With DeMarcus, we made the decision based on (the team's director of sports medicine and performance) Rick Celebrini's assessment he should just not play back-to-backs this season, so he's not going to."
That means Cousins will miss at least two more games, because the Warriors have back-to-backs on April 4-5 and again to close out the regular season on April 9-10.
Kerr also revealed Celebrini had advised Curry was in need of some rest, which was why he did not play against Dallas.
He added: "Every once in a while, it'll just come up that Rick will recommend 'let's give somebody a rest'. Last night, it was Steph.
"He's been going a couple months straight... We'll be better for it in the long run. So within all that, we try to win."
The time off appeared to benefit Curry as he came back strong, leading all scorers with 26 points as the Warriors made it 50 wins for the sixth consecutive term.
Hailing their consistency as "kind of surreal", the All-Star guard told reporters post-game: "You talk about the history of the organisation, how hard it is to win NBA games, win championships and string together (wins) year after year after year."
Golden State (50-23) have nine games left, while Denver (49-23) have 10, and both teams will meet next Tuesday in Oakland, California at the Oracle Arena.
That date is not part of a back-to-back for the Warriors, though it is the front end of one for the Nuggets. Denver coach Michael Malone has also hinted he would consider getting his key players some rest down the stretch, with Kerr's players having a friendlier run-in.
Separately, the Houston Rockets punched their post-season ticket with a 113-90 win at the New Orleans Pelicans. They are third in the West, 31/2 games behind the Warriors.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS