Golden State Warriors Remain Western Conference's Biggest Playoff Enigma

Scott Burns@Follow @ScottInTheBayCorrespondent IIIApril 11, 2014

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The Golden State Warriors are a very lethal team, but they don’t always bring their A-game every night.  Come playoff time, the Warriors need to be in top form to earn the true respect of the fans and especially their owners.

Last season, the Dubs overachieved because nobody expected them to play as well as they did.

This year, teams will be expecting the Warriors to ramp up their play and game-plan for such occurrences.  The team has more weapons, but opponents won’t be shocked by its style of play.

Mixed Messages

On top of the expectations, Mark Jackson could be on the hot seat based on comments he made, courtesy of the Associated Press (via ESPN): "My job will be determined on winning," Jackson said. "I'm fine with that."

Even with such a tough Western Conference, co-owner Joe Lacob is expecting the Dubs to at least match last season’s progress.  A first-round exit will not sit well with his ownership group.

Coach Jackson had his fourth-year option picked up for the 2014-15 season, but he wasn’t offered a contract extension.  Even with the dismissal of two assistant coaches recently, guard Stephen Curry has shown his support.

Lacob is pleased with the team’s success compared to three years ago, but he won’t comment on Coach Jackson until the season is over.

Coach Jackson knows that he has to overproduce if he wants to remain at the helm of the Warriors.

Lineup Questions

David Lee is running into a similar predicament as last season’s playoffs.  Lee is suffering from a hamstring injury that occurred on March 22 against the San Antonio Spurs.

He can move with it, but he doesn’t have the necessary explosion required to play at the top of his game.  Through April 10, the team holds an 8-4 record when Lee sits.

Instead of Harrison Barnes coming to the rescue like last season, Draymond Green is earning the extra time and playing at a high level.

As you can see from the highlights below, Green brings the effort every night.

Green can guard four positions very well, hustle for loose balls and switch successfully on the pick-and-roll.  The team is a lot stronger on defense with the “killer lineup” of Andrew Bogut, Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Curry, as described by Bogut.

Lee defends himself by saying that the team is better with him in the lineup, courtesy of Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

'I'm a guy who has worked my butt off for this team and has been a leader on and off the court,' he said. 'I'm ninth in the league in plus-minus (plus-6.7 points per game), so if I'm hurting the team, I don't see it.'

Coach Jackson will definitely have to put that in the back of his mind if Lee is healthy enough when the playoffs begin.  Lee produces the offense, but defense wins championships.

The Breakout Player

Last season, Harrison Barnes emerged in the playoffs after having a quiet, but steady season as the everyday starter.  He showed flashes of brilliance and almost single-handedly steered the Dubs to victory in Game 4 against the Spurs in order to tie up that series.

This year has been a different story, as Barnes hasn’t performed in the same capacity.  The adjustment from starter to sixth man has halted his progression, but there is still hope he can resemble the Black Falcon moniker.

Green is expected to be the player to fill that vacancy in these playoffs, but Barnes isn’t giving up.  With the shrinking of rotations on the biggest stage, Barnes will need to show Coach Jackson that extra gear in the limited minutes he receives.

Either way, David Lee will be fighting to retain his minutes, especially with defense being such a big factor in the playoffs.

First-Round and Other Potential Opponents

The Warriors will most likely enter the playoffs as the sixth seed and face the division rival Los Angeles Clippers.  The team didn’t do itself any favors by blowing a double-digit lead to the Denver Nuggets on April 10 and letting the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies back into the picture.

If the Dubs hold on to the sixth seed, this series will be one of the most entertaining and intense series of the opening round.

The Dubs know how to beat the Clips, but they haven’t fared as well on the road.  The Warriors lost at Staples Center on October 31 and again on March 12.

The Warriors won both meetings at home, which also included the contentious victory on Christmas night.

The Dubs match up well versus their southern neighbors because they are not afraid of Chris Paul or Blake Griffin.  The Clips also play the Warriors’ speed by having 98.4 possessions per game compared to the Dubs’ 98.2. 

The Warriors won’t be locked into a half-court game, which lets the team space the floor and create more opportunities for the Splash Brothers.

The biggest question will be with Coach Jackson and the readiness to play.  If the Warriors are ready at the tip, they can play with anyone.

However, the team has come out many times, especially at home, and incurred large deficits that are too big to overcome.

Whether it is the Clippers or any of the other top eight teams, Coach Jackson has to have his players believing that the upcoming game is the most important of their careers.

Playoff Game Plan

Coach Jackson can rely on his shooters to give him quick points and keep the team competitive.  However, the shooters won’t be hot every game of the playoffs.

He will have to diversify the game plan to get the frontcourt involved more often and also unleash Iguodala to create.  He has been holding back so far, as he believes that the playoffs are the perfect time to shine.

However, Iguodala showed a glimpse of that skill on April 10 with this killer crossover:

With Bogut getting involved more in the postseason, he can recreate the magic he showed against the Nuggets and Spurs in last year’s showdowns.

Don’t you remember this posterization?

By having all of the weapons working and stretching the floor, the Dubs can compete with anyone.  If they can limit the turnovers and play consistent defense, the Warriors have limitless potential. 

Tough matchups lurk on the horizon, as the Spurs are the Dubs’ "Huckleberry," but if they can avoid Tim Duncan and company, they could surprise their way into the NBA Finals.

The team could also be out after the first round.

Lacob expects the team to win a championship eventually, but he doesn’t really believe it can be accomplished this fast.

It’s playoff time, and anything is possible.

Follow @ScottInTheBay


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