It took a very long time, but we’re finally starting to see a little bit of clarity in the Western Conference standings. And as a result, the playoff picture is starting to shape up for the Golden State Warriors.
The postseason is creeping closer - it begins on April 15 - which means the Warriors’ date in the first round will be revealed sooner rather than later. And we’re finally starting to see who it may be.
Locked into the second seed
I’ve been updating the standings every Friday for a month, and in the past iterations I’ve updated the race for the top seed. Well, RIP that race. It is over.
The Warriors are 4.5 games behind the Houston Rockets, and the Rockets have the tiebreaker. Golden State has only 11 games left. Translation: It ain’t happening.
The Dubs are, however, nine games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers, which means that they’re completely locked into the second seed. It would take something monumental for them to end up anywhere else.
Who will the play in the first round?
If the playoffs began today, the Warriors would square off against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening round, which would be a breeze if Jimmy Butler is still sidelined, and a much harder challenge if he returns.
Not the worst matchup, but not the best one, either. Let’s look at the standings:
Western Conference Playoff Standings
The Utah Jazz have the same record as the Wolves, but lose the tiebreaker. With a slight improvement, the Jazz would face the Dubs in the opening round, which . . . hey, if you want to shut up the haters who said Golden State has had an easy playoff path in the past, now’s your chance. If you want an easy first round then NOPE.
The Jazz are absolutely rolling, and have been ever since Rudy Gobert returned to the lineup. Over the past two months, the Jazz are 21-2, have had the best defense in the NBA by a gargantuan measure, and have had the best net rating in basketball, outscoring opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions.
In other words, in the last two months, the Jazz have had a better net rating than the Warriors have posted in any of the last four seasons. So yeah . . . a first round date with the Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets would definitely be preferable.
Looking beyond the first round
While there’s a lot more clarity in the top two spots of the playoffs than in the bottom six, the Portland Trail Blazers have established themselves as firm favorites for the three seed. They’re playing red-hot basketball, and have a two-game lead over the next closest teams.
That means that, assuming both teams win their opening round series, the Warriors and Blazers would square off in round two.
The teams have met in both of the last two years, with the Warriors sweeping a first round series last year, and winning a second round series in five games in 2016. While the Warriors would be strongly favored (assuming full health), this Blazers team is dramatically better than in year’s past. That would be a lot of fun.
Beyond that, a date in the Western Conference Finals with the Houston Rockets seems all but guaranteed. It seems destined. And wow, would that be fun.