Trying to pinpoint who exactly these Golden State Warriors are has gotten increasingly more difficult with each passing week. We’re not quite certain how good they are completely healthy, because, well, they rarely are.
We take each impressive win over a top team with a grain of salt because they’re just as likely to come out the next night and drop a game, at home, to the Charlotte Bobcats.
They’re a team constructed from the outside in, a quality that makes them as dangerous an out when the playoffs begin as anyone else in the league. Unfortunately, that quality functions as a double-edge sword; when those jumpers stop falling, the Warriors stop winning.
How, then, will we view the enigma that is the Warriors when the playoffs begin? As the ultimate wild card, the team true contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder fear, but also the team that would shock nobody by bowing out early to a second-tier team like the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers.
As it currently stands, the Warriors come in at sixth in the Western Conference, although only one game separates them from the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks and three games from the division-rival Clippers in fourth. In the Western Conference, your place in the standings is always changing and anything can happen.
Let’s take a look at the teams the Warriors are most likely to face when the postseason begins and get a good look at their chances. We’ll consider only the teams above them in the standings because, quite frankly, regardless of who finishes at seven or eight, they’re not getting past the Thunder or Spurs.
If the season were to end today the Warriors would find themselves playing a Portland Trail Blazers team that they beat just over a week ago. And in that matchup, despite the discrepancy in their records, the Warriors would absolutely be considered the favorites.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are having stellar season by any measure and have elevated the Blazers past any expectations we could have had before the season began. They even earned themselves a trip to New Orleans as first-time All-Stars this season.
In the playoffs, though, they would discover something that the Warriors saw firsthand last season: The postseason is a whole different animal, and in the Western Conference, being the top dog takes more than a few All-Stars and a couple of hot shooting nights.
Experience will always reign supreme, especially when the talent level is so evenly balanced as it is in the West. The experience that Golden State gained last season in their upset over the Denver Nuggets and in their thrilling series against the Spurs is what gives them the edge over teams like the Blazers or the Phoenix Suns.
They have actually been there before.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, some of the other teams in front of them that they could end up facing have also been there before and have found far more success than this group of guys.
San Antonio Spurs
Clearly the Spurs would be the matchup from hell for the Warriors. They ousted the Warriors in the playoffs last season and have seemingly had the Warriors’ number since the inception of the NBA (just a rough estimation).
The Spurs clearly have the advantage in the experience department with Tim Duncan having been around for centuries (these estimations are very rough) and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili manning the fort right there next to him for years.
The silver lining, though, is that while the Warriors have had the injury bug single them out far too often this year, it’s shown that is has a particular taste for that crew in San Antonio as well. Rarely have we seen a fully healthy Spurs outfit this season, and that’s what it will take to oust such a hungry Warriors squad.
A healthy Spurs squad would be the overwhelming favorite; should a key cog like Danny Green or Ginobili succumb to injury again, however, an upset could very well be the end result.
After San Antonio, drawing the Rockets would be the next matchup that would draw groans. Despite a matchup that should seemingly work in their favor, the Rockets have had the Warriors' number the last couple of years, winning both games between the two teams so far this season.
Still, when the playoffs roll around, betting against the Warriors would be considered a ballsy move. With Andre Iguodala around to counter James Harden and Andrew Bogut sticking his Australian grill in Dwight Howard’s face, the matchups don’t favor the Rockets.
Especially when the league has still not found a reliable method of defending Stephen Curry.
Ultimately, it would come down to the two best players on the court, Curry and Harden, and while the Warriors can send out any number of plus-defenders to combat the Rockets star—Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes—the Rockets have no one who can cover the slick-shooting Curry.
With an X-factor as prolific as Steph, the advantage in this one goes to Golden State.
Los Angeles Clippers
The matchup for the Warriors that would set the NBA world on fire would be a series against Chris Paul and his Clippers. Despite Mark Jackson’s attempts to deny that this is a rivalry, anyone with a set of eyes and a functioning brain can see he’s clearly mistaken.
With all due respect to Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook, this series would feature a battle between the two best point guards in the game along with banging inside between Blake Griffin, David Lee, Andrew Bogut and DeAndre Jordan. There is no shortage of stars in this one.
It is an all-California matchup after all.
The question, though, isn’t whether or not it would be an enjoyable series; we already know the answer to that. The question is who would win. And until the Clippers show that they can hang in the postseason, the answer is once again the Warriors.
Despite often drawing comparisons to top stars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the fact remains that the furthest Chris Paul has ever advanced in the playoffs is the second round, causing SBNation’s Eddie Maisonet to dub him “Teflon Don.” That’s more Carmelo Anthony territory than James.
We’ve seen elite teams like the Memphis Grizzlies bully the Los Angeles in the past, and until the Clippers prove otherwise, that perception will persist. For all of the flair and thrills that they provide, we haven’t seen them push back when they get threatened.
Paul and Griffin have proven that they have plenty of bark, but until we see some teeth as well, they can’t be seen as a favorite against a quality team like the Warriors.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Unfortunately for the Warriors, if/when this matchup happens, that it is when their playoff journey will surely end. Fortunately for them, they will have plenty of company; no team is stopping the Thunder this season.
Dealing with Kevin Durant was never easy, not since the moment he entered the league. But this isn’t the Durant of old, not by a long shot. The guy that we’re seeing now has entered rarified air. He’s playing at a level that few have ever reached. The Warriors experienced his full wrath as seen in this video.
This is a hungry Kevin Durant, and a hungry Kevin Durant is flat out unstoppable.
We all knew that he would score a lot this season, because, come on, that’s what he does. Well, the book on Durant has been rewritten this year. He’s not just the best scorer in the game anymore. He’s a well-rounded monster that can beat you in any number of ways.
With averages of 31.0 points per game, 5.5 assists and 7.6 rebounds, the man is doing it all. He’s well on his way to winning the MVP this season, and that’s just the first piece of hardware he’ll pick up. He won’t be denied his championship this season, not by LeBron James, not by Paul George and unfortunately for Warrior fans, not by Curry.
To think that the Thunder have gone 40-12 so far this season with Westbrook missing a large chunk of games is astounding. Once he reenters the mix, there will be no doubt.
The Thunder will be the final stop for the Golden State Warriors this season.