Despite the Golden State Warriors being on pace for their first 50-win season since 1993-94, they still find themselves locked in a battle just to make the playoffs. With only two games separating the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and the ninth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, anything can happen.
That is the nature of the beast that is the Western Conference, a conference so talented that not a single team in it can feel particularly confident about their chances of emerging as champion.
The Warriors are a very good team, one that would be a lock to advance to the second round in the bizarrely inept Eastern Conference, but in the West, where the real basketball is apparently played, getting out of the first round would be a monumental accomplishment in and of itself.
The good news for the Warriors is that their playoff ceiling is just as high as any of the other contenders; they’re talented enough to upset anyone in the conference. The bad news, however, is that they’re also flawed enough to fall to any of those teams.
Take for example the dream matchup that is currently in play should all seeding stand pat until the playoffs begin. The Warriors would draw their rivals from Southern California, and an instant playoff classic would be born. Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin vs. David Lee, Andrew Bogut vs. DeAndre Jordan.
Most importantly, however, it would be the Bay Area vs. Los Angeles.
Nostradamus himself couldn’t tell you who would advance in that one.
It’s not just the Clippers, though. Who wouldn’t kill for the theatrics that a series against the Houston Rockets would provide? You can’t script that type of uncertainty. Fans from both sides would read off their team’s accomplishments and predict victory, but deep down, each would be terrified.
That is the beauty of this year’s postseason. Nobody knows anything.
The Western Conference has developed the greatest type of parity; teams haven’t decided to meet in the middle, they’re all hell-bent on getting to the top. That wonderful race to the crest has resulted in a postseason that will be reminiscent of musical chairs, where chaos and anarchy reign supreme and that one unlucky team is left with nothing.
The Warriors have no shortage of stars, not when they can claim the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, to name but a few. But when they’re countered by stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the intensity kicks in at full force and opens the door for a myriad of different endings.
The one thing that the Warriors have going for them is the notable balance on the team. They have an answer for any possible lineup.
Steve Blake ensures that the drop off when Curry hits the bench is minimal; Draymond Green has developed into a terrific complementary piece who accepts any defensive assignment with gusto, and Jermaine O’Neal has turned back the clock and contributed offense in spurts along with some hard-nosed defense.
They are as deep as any team in the conference, and that is reason for optimism. Players have fallen throughout the season, but the Warriors haven’t missed a beat. Mark Jackson has engineered the transformation, turning the Warriors from simply a dynamic offense into one of the premier two-way teams in the league.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they have merely become what the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs have been for years. While the Warriors played the Spurs surprisingly tough last season, the Spurs look to be even stronger in 2013-14.
Confidence is key going into any matchup, but against a team as seasoned as San Antonio, you need more than just belief. It’s entirely possible that the young guns from Golden State dethrone the old guard, but possible and probable are two completely different things.
The problem for the Warriors isn’t that they aren’t good; they’re very good. They just happen to be very good at a time when the Western Conference has never been greater.
Any of the teams put in front of them could conceivably knock them out. But with assassins from the outside like Curry and Thompson, counting them out would simply be folly. Tempered optimism is what the Warriors and their fans should take into the playoffs.
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