With the NBA regular season winding to a close, the Warriors sit comfortably atop the Western Conference with a 68-8 record. With Gregg Popovich regularly sitting out his stars for rest, the Warriors' home-field advantage throughout the playoffs seems secure.
On the other side of the bracket, a chaotic field has yet to yield clear playoff seedings. Currently, only 2.5 games separate the four teams from the sixth to ninth seed, with seven or eight games to play for each. Which one will it be, and which teams pose the most danger to the Warriors?
Luckily for the Warriors, the chances they play Portland, one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season, is small. Sitting at the sixth seed, the Trail Blazers would have to have an atrocious end to the season to fall two spots to the eighth seed.
Portland beat Golden State earlier this year in convincing fashion, beating the Warriors at their own game. No other team in the past year has demolished the Warriors by out-running and out-shooting them at a pace so historically to the Warriors' favor. The dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can get hot at any time, and that itself should be enough to scare Warriors' fans. However, subpar defense and a dearth of secondary options would likely doom the team in a seven-game series.
The media darling of the Western Conference last offseason hasn't quite reached many pundit's expectations this year due in large part to injuries: the promising Dante Exum tore his ACL before the season even began, and giant Rudy Gobert missed a large chunk of it due to knee troubles. Though they've been rallying lately, it's very possible they could find themselves in eighth at the end of the season.
Although the Jazz haven't beaten the Warriors this year, their team makeup should concern Golden State. On Wednesday, the Jazz showcased their stifling defense and elite frontcourt in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Gobert, taking the Warriors to overtime. Their slow pace, size, and rim protection could bog down the Warriors' pace and frustrate their offensive rhythm. However, their lack of backcourt playmaking (don't count out Rodney Hood, though) makes their offense anemic at times. The Jazz's ceiling is low, but expect this series to be gritty and exhausting.
Our friends in Houston have endured quite a disappointing season. After making the Western Conference Finals last year, poor effort and locker room issues have led to coach Kevin McHale's firing and a losing record. With the Rockets struggling lately, a Warriors-Rockets series is very possible,
The Rockets have lost all three games to the Warriors this year, including one in Houston with Stephen Curry out. Because of their inconsistency and focus issues, the Rockets could be the easiest possible opponent if the Warriors demoralize them early in the first couple games of a series. On the other hand, an inspired Houston squad still has an MVP-caliber star in James Harden, and talented but enigmatic pieces in Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, and Trevor Ariza. Many Warriors fans would love the opportunity for the Dubs to destroy the Rockets again as a reminder and affirmation of last year's success.
The ragtag Mavericks have surprised this year despite a roster full of holes. After missing out on DeAndre Jordan last summer and suffering injuries all over the roster, many pundits counted them out. But under coach Rick Carlisle, the team has made the most of Dirk Nowitzki's waning skills and journeymen like Zaza Pachulia and Raymond Felton. Dallas has a good of a chance as any team on the list to be the Warriors' first round opponent.
The Mavs have beaten the Warriors once this season, when Steph sat out a game in Dallas due to injury. The Warriors beat the Mavericks on March 25th in the game with the most made three pointers in NBA history. If this series does occur, expect it to be fast-paced with bombs from distance. With Chandler Parsons out for the season and other various injuries hurting the team, don't expect the cleanest basketball from the Mavs, but Rick Carlisle's coaching and the players' veteran experience alone could put up a fight against the first seed Warriors.
Who would you like the Warriors to play? Vote in the poll and answer in the comments.