The Golden State Warriors have been on a tear since the All-Star break, winning 10 of their past 12 games and raising their profile in the packed Western Conference. The Warriors (41-24) are now 17 games over .500 for the first time since April 1994.
With recent victories have come rising expectations, but they remain a second-tier Western Conference playoff team, hot stretch or no. That idea wasn't lost on Dirk Nowitzki after the Warriors 108-85 win over the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night.
The Warriors now find themselves in sixth place in the Western Conference standings, 4 games behind the L.A. Clippers, 3.5 games in back of Houston and L.A., and 1.5 games behind the Blazers.
Yes, there are five weeks of regular-season basketball left, but a realistic look at the situation leads you to one conclusion: The Warriors are going to open with either the Houston Rockets or L.A. Clippers. Question is: Which team does Golden State prefer?
That’s a tough one.
On the surface, it would seem like the Warriors would want the Rockets, a less established, less experienced team than Los Angeles. But it’s a tough call, and there’s plenty to consider.
Why the Rockets:
Iguodala’s presence: Yes, the Rockets defeated the Warriors two out of three times this season, but Andre Iguodala didn’t play in the losses. He did play in the Warriors’ overtime win against Houston late last month, and had a part in Chandler Parson’s 8-for-23 shooting night.
If you’ve watched the Warriors, you know they’re a better team with Iguodala, who owns the best plus-minus of any NBA player. If need be, the Warriors can use Iguodala to defend James Harden in stretches.
Not scared of Howard: The Warriors feel like they can handle Rockets center Dwight Howard, whether they play big or small. If the Warriors play their traditional lineup, they believe Andrew Bogut is more than capable of matching up with Howard.
Bogut didn’t play on Feb. 20, when the Warriors beat the Rockets in overtime. Using some small lineups over the course of the game, the Warriors hurried Howard into a 4-for-13 shooting night.
Why the Clippers:
Psychological stalemate: The bottom line is the Warriors don’t view themselves as underdogs against the Clippers. Nor should they. Golden State has beaten the Clippers in five of the past seven games and are 7-4 against them in the past 11. In other words, the Warriors like their chances against the Clippers and would seem to hold a mental edge.
Two key matchups: While Chris Paul and Blake Griffin form a scary twosome, the reality is that the Warriors have matched up well with them over the past couple of seasons. Stephen Curry, who has worked out with Paul in offseasons past, looks more than comfortable going up against him.
Warriors power forward David Lee has also proven troublesome for Griffin. Lee has shown he can get his offensive numbers against Griffin and, perhaps surprisingly, he and Andrew Bogut have gotten under Griffin’s skin at the defensive end.
Favorable pace: The Clippers have been playing at a faster pace than they did a year ago. They’re getting up and down the court to the tune of 98.3 possessions per game (6th in league), compared with 93.6 in 2012-13. While this may make the Clippers’ style more pleasing to the eye, it also plays into the Warriors’ hands.
Why? Because the Warriors are at their best when they’re in transition, spacing the floor and allowing their 3-point shooters terrific looks.