Stephen Curry drives to the bucket on the Lakers' Steve Blake
The Golden State Warriors are one game away from completing what has been, in many ways, the franchise's most successful season in two decades.
The 2007-08 Warriors may have won 48 games (one or two more than this year's team depending on their final game), but that team missed the playoffs.
This year's Golden State team has not only clinched a postseason berth, but is fighting for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. They have a real chance of winning a series if they can grab that sixth spot.
Therefore, one could argue that the first Warriors' playoff game will be played in Portland on April 17.
With a win in game No. 82, Golden State will clinch the sixth seed. That would give them a first-round date with the Denver Nuggets or Los Angeles Clippers; likely the former although preferably the latter.
Contrast that with a loss, which would leave their fate in the hands of the Houston Rockets.
Although the Warriors crushed the Spurs on April 15 in Oakland, the playoffs may go a little differently. San Antonio will have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili on the court. None of those players were on the floor in the blowout loss. The Warriors also haven't won in San Antonio in 16 years, so there's that.
Again, Houston and San Antonio become irrelevant if Golden State beats the Trail Blazers.
Regardless of who the Warriors play in the first round, however, they will have an uphill climb. San Antonio possesses an Everest-sized challenge, but Denver is in the Rockies and even Los Angeles is 288 feet higher than Oakland.
All three opponents will have an upper-hand on Golden State in terms of playoff experience, they might feature the three deepest benches in the league and all three happen to reside in the NBA's top five in terms of point differential.
Ah, life in the Western Conference.
That isn't to say that Golden State cannot advance. It's just to say that several things must go right.
The first of which has been going right a lot lately: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson's shooting strokes. Interior play is usually considered the key come postseason time, and teams that live by the three tend to die by the three.
The difference, however, is that Golden State does not so easily die by the three.
Stephen Curry is two three-pointers away from setting the single-season NBA record for threes made. But even Ray Allen—the man Curry will try to surpass in Portland—has next to nothing on Curry.
For one, Curry is a dead-eye shooter no matter how the shot is created. Whether he pulls up in transition, creates space with a killer crossover, dribbles around a screen to the left or right, fades away, shoots from the corner, shoots from 27 feet or catches and shoots on an elevator cut, the man is unparalleled in his proficiency to drain.
One could over-simplify things and compare Curry's .455 three-point percentage to Allen's .412 percentage in his record-setting season, or state that Curry is second to Steve Kerr in all-time three-point percentage but will (barring injury) pass Kerr in threes made next fall at age 25.
Stating these statistics, however, doesn't do Curry's ability justice. One must watch him play to fully believe what Curry is: A player who has become a superstar, an unstoppable force, and has done so primarily with three-point shooting.
Thompson may be a better comparison to Allen, although the 205 threes Thompson has made in his second season is higher than any total Allen reached during his first five years and all but three of his 17 seasons.
Thompson's career three-point percentage is .404, compared to Allen's .401. It also took Allen five years to get his career average into the .400-range.
Again, most teams that live by the three during the season die by the three come postseason time. But many of these teams create their long-range opportunities by spacing the perimeter with catch-and-shoot specialists, swinging the ball around or driving and kicking. Playoff defenses tighten up, run these shooters off the line and force them to either take bad shots or try and win some other way.
The Warriors possess two of the best three-point shooters of all-time, however, and Curry is just as dangerous from mid-range and as a playmaker while Thompson is one of the best high-post scoring guards in the game and can also make teams pay with his penetration.
Of course, these two aren't always on. They have never played in the postseason, and if they are cold, the Warriors will lose. It's that simple. All teams, three-point lovers or not, live and die by their best players.
Speaking of best players, there are two other Warriors who will be absolutely critical come playoff time: David Lee and Andrew Bogut.
Whether it be Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos or Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Warriors' starting frontcourt will be challenged.
Andrew Bogut has missed the past two-plus games due to a bone bruise. If he doesn't play at something close to resembling almost 100 percent, Golden State has no chance against Denver or San Antonio.
If David Lee doesn't get the Warriors 20 points on over 50 percent shooting and 10 rebounds every night, they will not be able to beat any of these three teams. Lee is a weak defender, so Duncan, Faried or Griffin will exploit him. If he doesn't match their play offensively and win the battle on the glass, Golden State will struggle to stay in the game for 48 minutes.
In the postseason, everything could, and to an extent, should be seen as a critical factor.
What is the biggest key for Golden State in round one, regardless of opponent?
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry must play their best. Festus Ezeli or Andris Biedrins must provide good minutes. Harrison Barnes must add complimentary scoring in some games and smart defense in all. Mark Jackson must adapt his lineups as the series goes on.
Ultimately, some things will go Golden State's way and some won't. Regardless of this, David Lee and Andrew Bogut must play big to give the Warriors a chance. If they do, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have the ability to take control of a series.
The keys to any subsequent playoff series would be essentially the same. For now, the only wisdom I can provide with regards to round two: Don't think about it yet.