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The Warriors’ playoff path is almost clear

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Having secured the top seed in the West, the Warriors can start scouting their opponents.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With only a few games left in the season, the Golden State Warriors secured the top spot in the Western Conference on Sunday. Luckily for them, their path to the 2019 NBA Finals is shaping up to be pretty optimal, and if the teams largely stay put, the Warriors should be happy with their playoff draw.

The eighth seed is still undecided between the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and L.A. Clippers, but per Jacob Goldstein’s model, the Clippers are likely to stay in eighth. The Thunder, the toughest of the three teams, have just an outside chance of falling to eighth, and the Warriors’ shouldn’t be concerned about the Spurs or their chances either. As we saw in Oracle Arena on Sunday, the Warriors have loads more talents than the Clippers, and should be able to sweep them. The Clips lack the star power, experience, and size to compete with the Warriors.

The Warriors would then play the winner of the matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds. The odds are extremely high that the Trail Blazers and the Jazz are the two teams, and given Jusuf Nurkic’s injury, it’s hard to see the Blazers advancing. The Warriors’ second-round opponent is likely to be Utah.

Utah is a strong team. Per NBA.com, they have the fourth-highest net rating in the league, buoyed by their elite defense. Rudy Gobert is the NBA’s best rim protector, and their supporting cast is able to guard aggressively knowing he’ll help them out if they let their man get by. Offensively, Donovan Mitchell is responsible for much of their shot creation, and although he scores in volume, he’s not the most efficient scorer. Even though they’re shooting better as a team from long range than in years past, their offense is still mediocre and prone to stalling.

The Warriors could have a tough time with Gobert, but the Jazz simply don’t have the offensive talent to find consistent buckets against the Warriors’ defense. I’d expect the Warriors to win fairly handily.

In the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors should hope for anybody other than Houston. Denver and Oklahoma City can pose specific challenges, but Denver’s defensive issues and OKC’s lack of offensive spacing will probably doom them in the playoffs. Though the Rockets aren’t as good as they were last year, James Harden is still pretty scary, and their defense pushes the Warriors towards an isolation-heavy style that takes away their run-and-gun energy. The Rockets might even be the toughest opponent the Warriors face all playoffs.

If the Warriors make the Finals, they’ll likely face the Bucks or the Raptors. Golden State won’t have homecourt, but they’ll be favored. We’ll worry about that when we get there, though.