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Sifting through the Warriors’ possible first round opponents, Part II

We continue looking at the opponents the Warriors would rather not face in the first round of the playoffs.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

What teams would the Warriors be least happy to see in the first round? In the first part of the series, we took a look at the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, and Nuggets. We look at the rest here. The current standings are incredibly volatile and close:

4. San Antonio Spurs

Yes, the Spurs are falling in the standings, but if Kawhi Leonard makes his return for the playoffs, the Spurs will be a tough out for any team in the first round. When healthy, Kawhi is a top five player in the league, a dominant perimeter defender with impressive offensive tools.

With Leonard, the Spurs could easily steal a game or two from the Warriors. Without Leonard, however, San Antonio will be an easy out for Golden State. They swept the Spurs sans Kawhi in last year’s playoffs, and could do it again this year without breaking a sweat.

Shockingly, the Spurs could miss the playoffs this year, for the first time in ages. There’s a good chance they match up with the Warriors in the first round, given their recent skid.

3. Utah Jazz

The Jazz have struggled with injuries this season, but they’re on the rise now, led by Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Joe Ingles. They’re the tenth seed right now, but they’re playing well enough to not only make the playoffs, but even work their way to maybe the sixth seed.

The Jazz have one of the best defenses in the league, and play all-around tough basketball. The Warriors have struggled in the past with physical teams, and the games in mile-high Salt Lake City could be a slog. The Warriors would win a matchup with them, but it wouldn’t be fun.

Because other teams are falling, the Jazz have a pretty good shot of making the playoffs. They’re playing well as of late, so it’s certainly possible the Warriors face them in the first round.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

Before Jimmy Butler went down with injury, the Wolves looked like the third best team in the West. We don’t know when he’ll return exactly, but it does seem like he’s targeting the playoffs. With Butler, the Wolves are a scary team with a bunch of offensive firepower. Without him, as they are now, they really do struggle.

A healthy Jimmy Butler and the versatile Karl-Anthony Towns could give the Warriors headaches. The Warriors will have a massive advantage at the guard positions, but the Timberwolves have enough athleticism and talent to give the Warriors problems. Towns especially will be tough for the Warriors to guard.

With Butler out, the Wolves are a substantially worse team, and could even fall out of the playoffs. A playoff matchup between the Wolves and Warriors is certainly possible: it would be a bunch of fun, but the Warriors would probably prefer other opponents.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are struggling, but Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams are still formidable. The loss of Andre Roberson has hurt their defense, but they still have a bunch of talent. Nevertheless, they’ve been dropping a lot of easier games, and have a rough end-of-season schedule to overcome.

The Thunder match up well with the Warriors. They have the length and athleticism to contest shots and crowd passing lanes. They wiped out the Warriors twice this season, though the Warriors recently returned the favor. A series with the Thunder would be intense and physical: these teams don’t like each other at all.

It’s a disappointment for the Thunder that they are only two games from missing the playoffs. They haven’t figured it out, and perhaps they never will. But if they do, watch out: the 2018 Thunder could be almost as dangerous as the 2016 Thunder that took the Warriors to seven games.

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