A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Golden State Warriors’ possible first round opponents in the playoffs, and a lot has changed. Most notably, the San Antonio Spurs’ winning streak and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s recent losses have muddied the bottom of the playoff tree. The Spurs, Thunder, Utah Jazz, and L.A. Clippers have extremely similar records, and there’s still time for the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers to fall as well.
The Warriors have dropped a few games, but they still have control of the first seed in the conference. The Denver Nuggets have the same number of losses, but their remaining schedule is much more difficult than the Warriors’. It shouldn’t be that difficult for the Warriors to keep control of the first seed; 538 predicts them three games ahead of the Nuggets at the end of the season.
As I wrote previously, the Warriors would prefer to meet either the Spurs or the Clippers in the first round. Both teams lack the star power and defensive versatility necessary to compete with the Warriors. I predict the Clippers probably stay in eighth, but the Jazz or even the Thunder could fall to eighth. Both teams are quite a bit more dangerous to the Warriors.
In the second round, the Warriors could face any team other than the Nuggets. If the Spurs or Clippers win their first series, the Warriors would obviously prefer them. Let’s quickly run through the Rockets, Trail Blazers, Jazz and Thunder.
Opponents the Warriors can clearly beat
The Trail Blazers would get stomped by the Warriors. I think they’re a little better than they were last year, especially because of Jusuf Nurkic’s improved play, but they lack depth and still have the defensive problems in their backcourt. The Warriors have played against them twice in the postseason in recent years, and neither series was close.
The Jazz always play hard against the Warriors, and their defense truly is difficult to crack. But ultimately, they don’t have enough offensive punch to take down the Warriors. They rely on Donovan Mitchell for so much of their shot creation, and they lack complementary shooting. The Warriors can beat the Jazz without much trouble, but it’ll be a physical, taxing series.
Opponents that might be tougher to beat
The Thunder are difficult to gauge. On the one hand, their defense can be truly scary, featuring a bunch of long, quick athletes, and Paul George is having an MVP-caliber season. On the other, the Warriors play against Russell Westbrook very well, and the team doesn’t have a lot of shooters. I don’t think the Thunder are as good as the Rockets, but they’re still dangerous.
The Warriors do not want to face the Rockets in the second round. Despite his playoff disappearances, James Harden is always scary to face, and DeMarcus Cousins could be exposed in a seven-game series. Their defense can give the Warriors fits, forcing them into isolations that go against their offensive identity. Houston is not as good as they were last year, but they can still pull off a victory if things go their way. I expect them to stay in third place, so the Warriors shouldn’t face them until the Conference Finals, if at all.
Power ranking potential second round opponents
Ultimately, I think the Blazers are by far the easiest of the four. The Jazz are a little tougher, and the Thunder are maybe even concerning. The Rockets are a real threat.
Luckily for the Warriors, 538 predicts the Trail Blazers to end up in fourth and the Jazz to end up in fifth. If the Warriors stay in control of the first seed, this 4-5 matchup would be optimal. Letting the Rockets and Thunder duke it out in the first round would be entertaining and a sigh of relief.
Who would you like to see the Warriors face in the second round?
This poll is closed
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trail Blazers
Who cares! We’re winning regardless!
Let’s just get through the regular season first...