The Golden State Warriors will almost assuredly enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the West, despite only a narrow lead over the Denver Nuggets in the standings here in late February. Getting the top seed isn’t that important to the Warriors, but by sheer excellence, they seem entitled to it. The Warriors are the rare team that can win 70 percent of its games without ever trying all that hard for all that long.
Odds are the Warriors will rip through the West playoffs no matter who they face, but it’s worth noting that the first round is shaping up to be an interesting test for Golden State. There are currently seven teams within three games of the No. 8 seed in either direction — from the 35-25 Houston Rockets (currently No. 5 in the standings) to the No. 11 L.A. Lakers at 29-31. The Warriors could draw any one of these seven teams in the first round depending on how the remainder of the season shakes out.
Which would the Warriors likely prefer, acknowledging that they would almost assuredly wallop all of them? Here’s my assessment, starting with the opponents Golden State would most want and winding down to the foes the Warriors would rather avoid.
Why the Timberwolves?
The Timberwolves are not very good, and while they have an All-NBA caliber player in Karl-Anthony Towns, the Jimmy Butler trade greatly reduced Minnesota as a threat. Andrew Wiggins remains Andrew Wiggins, to everyone’s eternal frustration. Minnesota also has a rookie head coach in Ryan Saunders and flamed out in rather unremarkable fashion in the 2018 NBA playoffs.
Why not the Timberwolves?
Other than James Harden, Towns is the best player on any of the Warriors’ potential first-round foes. If, for whatever reason, DeMarcus Cousins isn’t up to the task of defending him for 36 minutes, Towns could really pose the Warriors problems. In previous seasons, dealing with impact centers was a potential Achilles heel, and Towns is the best one they’ll potentially face in the first round.
2. L.A. Clippers
We all thought the Clippers were going to aim toward the NBA draft lottery to keep their own pick (owed to Boston if it’s No. 15 or higher) and collect chips for a summer spending spree. But no one told the actual Clippers, who keep winning.
Why the Clippers?
The Clippers roster is not at all intimidating, especially to the star-laden Warriors. Frankly, it’s a testament to Doc Rivers and the notion of playing hard every night that this team is in the No. 7 slot a week after All-Star and two weeks after trading its best player for draft picks. Doc Rivers is the Coach of the Year if Michael Malone isn’t, and Michael Malone isn’t.
Why not the Clippers?
I’m not trying to be glib here, but the No. 1 reason the Warriors don’t want to face the Clippers in the first round is Patrick Beverley. RUSSELL WESTBROOK FANS NEVER FORGET.
3. L.A. Lakers
Frankly, this whole Lakers thing is edging from hilarious to a little sad.
Why the Lakers?
Why do the Warriors want to face the Lakers? Have you watched the Lakers lately? They are awful. Even with Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram playing well, L.A. struggles to beat bad teams. I’m not sure the Lakers ever had chemistry this season, but at least when everyone was healthy, they were winning more than half of their games. They lost a lot with LeBron James injured, and they are losing with Lonzo Ball injured. This is not a good team.
Also, don’t you get the sense that the Warriors would love to sweep LeBron’s team out of the first round if given the opportunity?
Why not the Lakers?
Look, the Lakers would stand no chance of beating the Warriors in a best-of-7 series. But if you can avoid playing against LeBron Fricking James in the NBA playoffs, you avoid it. Too much weird stuff happens in his favor when the playoffs start. Just stay out of the way. Let the Nuggets or the NBA Draft lottery take care of him.
The Spurs just completed a 1-7 Rodeo Trip and are still three games ahead of the Lakers.
Why the Spurs?
San Antonio has two more stars than the Clippers, but little depth, a retro style that should mathematically be crushed by the Warriors, and an extremely underwhelming defense. Golden State could average 130 a game against the Spurs. (Please Basketball Gods, don’t let Gregg Popovich’s NBA farewell be Kevin Durant drilling iso three over iso three on poor Rudy Gay.)
Why not the Spurs?
Popovich is a master tactician. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan can bust 40 on any old team. The Warriors’ defense has been suspect, and the Spurs’ offense is really good despite all the mid-range shots.
Yes, Golden State could average 130 a game against the Spurs. But San Antonio could average 126 and give the Warriors a lot of April indigestion.
5. Sacramento Kings
It’s almost March, and the Kings are above .500. How’s the gelato in Hades?
Why the Kings?
The Kings are extremely young — the three most important players (Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, and Marvin Bagley) will have played a combined six NBA seasons when the playoffs arrive. Sacramento also has a worse net rating than even the Lakers despite a better record and is statistically below average on both offense and defense.
Why not the Kings?
Have you watched any Kings vs. Warriors games this season? Golden State won all four, but the combined margin was 12 points and Sacramento should have won at least two of those games.
Also, the Golden 1 Center would electric for Games 3 and 4 after the Kings’ long playoff drought, assuming Warriors fans don’t secretly gobble up all the tickets.
Also also, HARRISON BARNES REVENGE SERIES.
6. Utah Jazz
More like Gordon Who-ward.
Why the Jazz?
It’s hard to come up with any reason for the Warriors to want to face the Jazz in the first round — does anyone ever really want to play against the Jazz at any point? — but here’s one: sharpen up the dull edges. The Jazz will make you work, and the Warriors look bored pretty often.
Why not the Jazz?
Utah might be capable of peeling a game off the Warriors if Golden State isn’t careful, and if you can peel off one game, maybe you can peel off two. Utah also has the toughest defense Golden State could face in the first round by far, and facing stiff resistance might push Durant to resort to iso ball awful early in the postseason.
7. Houston Rockets
Houston could still get first-round home-court advantage or miss the playoffs. The Western Conference is weird.
Why the Rockets?
The only reason the Warriors would want to face the Rockets — who took them to seven brutal games in the conference finals last season and have won all three meetings this regular season — is to embarrass them right out of the postseason from the jump. That … is not a compelling reason, which should tell you how much the Warriors want to face the Rockets in the first round.
Why not the Rockets?
Chris Paul is starting to look right, just in the nick of time since James Harden’s vainglorious (emphasis on the glorious) 30-point streak is finally over. This team is slightly less loaded on defense, but still absolutely loaded on offense. There could be one more buy-out market addition in the next few days.
The Rockets can hang with the Warriors. Probably. Maybe.