TORONTO — There's no shortage of places in this city where Warriors coach Don Nelson can find a good hand-rolled Cuban cigar.
Nelson might even indulge in one tonight if the Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
Not because he'll then be tied with Lenny Wilkens for the most career coaching wins in NBA history, but because he'll be that much closer to not having to answer questions about the subject ever again.
"It would be nice for him to do it now and not have to carry it through the summer," Warriors general manager Larry Riley said before
Golden State beat New York 128-117 to give Nelson career win No. 1,331. "It would just go on and on."
If the Warriors want to give their coach some peace in the coming months, it would behoove them to take care of business this week. Toronto is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but the other three teams Golden State plays on this four game road trip — Washington, Minnesota, Los Angeles — are well out of playoff contention.
After that, the Warriors host Oklahoma City and Utah before traveling to Portland for the regular-season finale. All three of those opponents are going to the postseason.
"We want to get the record, but we also want to finish the season strong," said guard Reggie Williams, one of three players in the Warriors starting lineup Friday night who were in the NBA's Development League earlier this season. "Not just get the wins for the record, but it would be nice to win them all. Just build on that for next year and carry that momentum."
The Warriors' 5-31 road record speaks for itself. But for all of their injuries, the Warriors have been competitive against sub-.500 teams. And now they're playing for something more than pride.
"In all honesty, I wouldn't have come back early if it wasn't for (Nelson)," said center Ronny Turiaf, who missed Wednesday's game at Utah with the flu and was still slightly under the weather against the Knicks. "I'm trying to be part of history and trying to do whatever I can to help him get that stat, because he's been a big influence on my life the past few years."
Since the season started — and especially in recent weeks — Nelson has said that he hasn't been worried about catching Wilkens. He's been getting plenty of e-mails and text messages from well-wishers, which he said makes him eager to get the record behind him.
Two months ago, it appeared Nelson didn't have a shot at passing Wilkens. The Warriors had just 13 wins on Feb. 8, when they were already without forwards Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Brandan Wright and Vladimir Radmanovic. Guard Rajah Bell was also hurt.
Nelson said this has been his most memorable season in 31 years as a head coach, only because he's never had a team that has had to deal with so many injuries and changes to the starting lineup.
Even tonight, the Warriors will be without their best player in guard Monta Ellis, who has the flu and is questionable for the rest of the road trip, which concludes Saturday in Los Angeles.
But the Golden State coaching staff was able to weave Anthony Tolliver into the lineup in January, Chris Hunter in February and Williams in March. Golden State is 9-16 since Feb. 8.
"All I do is the best I can every day. Every day, I get up and do the best job I can do," said Nelson, who has one year left on his contract at $6 million. "Sometimes when you do that, you win 60 games. Sometimes when you do that, you win 21 games."
Not surprisingly, Warriors guard Anthony Morrow said Nelson never mentions the record to the team. The players themselves rarely talk about it, although it's not easy to get it out of their minds right now.
"I'm really proud that I can step out there and help him in any possible way to get it," Turiaf said, "because I know deep down he really wants to get it."
Raptors, 3 p.m.
Coaching to the top
Most wins by an NBA coach: