The season keeps getting better for the Golden State Warriors. After their 113-93 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, the Warriors’ record sits at 30-17, their best mark at this point of a season since 1991-92.
The Warriors find themselves smack dab in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. They’re in fifth place, trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by a half-game, but leading the Denver Nuggets by a half-game.
January was supposed to be a critical month for the Warriors, a time when the schedule turned more difficult. But they weathered the storm and then some, beating the Clippers twice, Thunder, and also took care of the teams they should have.
With an eye toward the last six weeks of the season – when the schedule turns quite favorable for Golden State – it seems quite likely that the Warriors are going to break their five-year playoff drought and get into the postseason for just the second time in 19 years.
Now, whether they can advance into the second round – like the “We Believe” team of 2006-07 -- remains to be seen … and will probably have a lot to do with their first-round opponent.
With that in mind, here’s a list of possible first-round opponents, in the order of most desirable to least.
1. L.A. Clippers: The Clippers hold down the No. 3 position in the conference, so it’s certainly possible Golden State could find themselves in a first-round matchup with them – maybe a No. 3 vs. No. 6 or a No. 4 vs. a No. 5.
Of all the teams the Warriors could face in the first round, the Clippers would be the most ideal. Over the past two seasons, the Warriors are 5-3 against the Clippers, and it’s an opponent they’re comfortable against.
Stephen Curry plays Chris Paul tough, and ditto for David Lee against Blake Griffin. The rest of the Warriors feel they’re every bit as good as the Clippers, if not better.
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Yes, it is true the Grizzlies have beaten the Warriors eight straight times, but Memphis is a little different these days. They traded away Rudy Gay, an integral part of their offense, and their bench is suspect and thin.
There’s no doubt Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph give the Warriors fits, but the Grizzlies aren’t the same team anymore – and that alone is good for the Warriors.
3. Denver Nuggets: There’s something about the Nuggets that just gives the Warriors problems. Some of it is the relentlessness of Kenneth Faried, some of it is the Nuggets' quickness and ability to defend on the perimeter and part of it is they’re every bit as deep, and even a little more, than the Warriors.
The Nuggets have defeated the Warriors three out of four games this season. Put it this way, if the Warriors have to open with Denver in the postseason, they’d surely like to have homecourt advantage.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: The Warriors defeated the Thunder in the teams’ last meeting on Jan. 23. But that snapped a five-game losing streak against Oklahoma City.
The Warriors have the same trouble against the Thunder that most teams do – they don’t have a great matchup against Kevin Durant. Then you throw in a big, physical frontline and a backcourt that is long and athletic, and this isn’t a team the Warriors want to see in the postseason.
Luckily, the Warriors probably won’t have to – in the first round, anyway. Oklahoma City is entrenched in the No. 2 spot right now.
5. San Antonio Spurs: First of all, the Warriors have lost 28 straight times to the Spurs in San Antonio … and the Warriors aren’t going to have homecourt advantage against them. So, do the math. In addition, the Spurs have an advantage at what are supposed to be the Warriors’ two best positions: Point guard and power forward.
But Tony Parker and Tim Duncan usually trump Curry and Lee. And the rest of the Spurs’ roster isn’t too shabby, either.