The Warriors have a two-game lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference, and a much easier remaining schedule over their last seventeen games of the season. The Warriors are also up in the season series 2-1, and winning the last match between them would secure a tiebreaker if they were to end up with the same record. Barring a huge upset, the Warriors will be the first seed in the playoffs.
In recent weeks, the bottom of the playoff picture has cleared. The Lakers and Timberwolves are 6.5 games out of the playoffs, and with 17 games left in the season, they’re almost sure to miss them. The ninth-place Kings are 3.5 games out of the playoffs, and with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, could make a run with a lot of luck.
If the Kings snuck into the eighth seed, a Northern California series would be amazing. The Kings aren’t a great team, but they’re a fun young team that pushes the ball. The Warriors’ games against the Kings this season have been exciting and close, though the Warriors have won all of them. Alas, the odds are not in the Kings’ favor.
The sixth, seventh, and eighth seed in the West are currently separated by only half a game. In sixth, the Utah Jazz are unlikely to fall any further: they have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, and boast by far the best net rating of any of these three. It would be a catastrophe for them to fall to the eighth seed, and the worst possible outcome for the Warriors as well. The Jazz have always played the Warriors well: their suffocating defense is a pain to deal with. But thankfully, the Jazz will not end up in eighth—if anything, they’re more likely to end up third or fourth.
This leaves two surprise teams that will likely play the Warriors: the Spurs and the Clippers. Not many people thought either team would make the playoffs, and nobody thought both of them would make the playoffs. Both of them have retooled in recent years, with the Clippers moving on from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, and the Spurs moving on from Kawhi Leonard and the stars from their decades-old dynasty.
Both are not particularly strong teams: the Clippers and Spurs are at eleventh and twelfth in net rating, respectively. Neither team has a true star, and both rely on their depth to make up for it.
The Spurs, forever a defensive force, are now an offensive machine. Their methods are unique though: they have few three-point shooters, and score mostly inside and from the midrange. However, their defense has fallen off a cliff—last year, they were third in defensive rating, and now they are twenty-first. Although they’ll have more offensive creation than last year if they play the Warriors, they’re going to get decimated on the other end.
The Clippers are still likely to make the playoffs despite dealing Tobias Harris, arguably their best player, at the trade deadline. They’ve been able to survive because of tremendous depth, impeccable play from their veterans like Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Danilo Gallinari, and solid coaching from Doc Rivers. However, their depth will likely be less valuable in the playoffs because of rotation shortening. I’m particularly concerned with Beverley wearing down Stephen Curry with tough, relentless defense.
Overall, I think I’d rather face the Spurs. They’re a worse team than they were last year, and the Warriors won that series easily despite Stephen Curry’s injury. The Spurs still don’t have enough athleticism to compete with the Warriors, and the Dubs should be able to easily figure out their weak defense. Either way, the Warriors should be happy with their first round matchup spread.