Is it Golden State’s Championship again?
In order for the Golden State Warriors to win, they’ll need to beat three Western Conference teams in best-of-seven game series. They are the overwhelming favorites to do it, but they aren’t going to win 12 Western Conference games by forfeit, and the teams will provide some resistance. So which teams might actually provide that resistance?
Phoenix / Memphis / Dallas / New Orleans
None of these teams pose a threat. Primarily because they won’t make the playoffs, but secondarily because they aren’t good enough anyway.
The Los Angeles Lakers
This is a shame because it will not happen. The Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs. But if you were building a team that was otherwise nondescript but they had to create issues for the Warriors, the Lakers are that team.
I’m not talking about the fact that the Lakers were 20-14 on Christmas Day (18-9 in the 27 games immediately before Christmas, after they had found their rotations).
Golden State played the Lakers four times last year, and the Lakers were competitive in all four. But Lonzo Ball missed one game and Brandon Ingram missed one, and the 35-win Lakers went to overtime in both.
Let me repeat, if you were building a team that was otherwise nondescript but they had to create issues for the Warriors, the Lakers are that team. No one can stop Steph Curry, but a bigger defender who troubles him just enough and while appearing only moderately athletic, makes a defensive difference bigger than the gap Steph Curry makes on the Warriors numbers offensively, Lonzo Ball may be the best Steph defender.
Ingram, on the other hand, is the perfect Durant defender. Durant is great, but one of the primary reasons he is great Is because he is a 7-footer with a huge wingspan who plays like a guard, so that
Now, add LeBron James, the one guy who comes as close as is possible to single-handedly destroy the Warriors defense, and you might just have the perfect combination to beat the Warriors. 127-101 on Christmas Day suggests it is possible for this team to give them fits.
Of course, this team is not quite good enough to make the playoffs as it is currently constructed, which is a shame. Heraclitus said that you never cross the same river twice, and I think that even if the Lakers return next year, they will lose that charm that makes them difficult for Golden State to beat, even though they are far better.
Minnesota / San Antonio
These teams are good enough to make the playoffs, so we need to at least write about what might happen, but the neither of these teams have the talent to hang with the Warriors. The Spurs are a team that survives off superior scheming.
San Antonio is 1-1 against the Warriors this year, but their win was when Steph Curry and Draymond Green were both out (if those guys are out, the list of teams that can beat the Warriors moved from a few teams with barely a chance to several teams with a decent chance), and the sweep in the playoffs last year is far more telling than anything else.
Golden State loves to play a team like the Spurs. They shoot fewer three-pointers than anyone else, they aren’t nearly as talented, so the Warriors can focus for half a quarter and build a lead that cannot be overcome (like they did in the 39 point win of the other game they played this year).
Sacramento / Utah / LA Clippers
These teams have an outside chance if you don’t value playoff experience. The LA Clippers are 1-2 against the Warriors losing by an average of 5 points per game. Of course, their win was the game where Draymond called KD a name (And if the Warriors implode, they are certainly beatable). Sacramento has no experience, and the fact that they have lost by an average of 3 points seems like they could keep it close.
However, basketball is a sport where crunch time performance is disproportionately important, so it seems that Sacramento will struggle to put together the clutch performances to win a series. Utah is a less exaggerated version. They have some experience, and their sophomore player (Donavan Mitchell) has a little more playoff experience than Sacramento’s (De’Aaron Fox).
They are 1-2 against the Warriors this year, losing by an average of
Portland / Denver
Both of these teams have currently split the season series. Both of these teams can make quantitative arguments for being able to beat the Warriors.
I do not believe that either of these teams, even though they are both very good, will have the ability to beat the Warriors in a series. The Nuggets have incredible depth, but when the games spread out and the travel is minimized, depth is less important.
Denver does have a significant altitude-induced home court advantage, but I think a rested Warriors team could compete with them.
While both of these teams have won regular season games, viewing them seems more like a less than motivated Warriors team than something specific these teams can do. The Warriors won the final game in each series convincingly and without any real numerical justification, I give both of these teams almost no chance to win.
Russell Westbrook always plays with the anger of a million refugees. When he goes toe to toe with the guy who helped him make fun of Steph Curry’s defense less than 3 calendar years ago, it seems like the refugees are increased.
Paul George is one guy who can make life difficult for Kevin Durant. Lest you think Boogie Cousins might be an advantage, Steven Adams is a brute. OKC also has athletic big guys who the Warriors can’t beat in weird match-ups (Grant, Morris, Noel, and maybe even Patterson).
They also may get Andre Roberson back, who can create havoc as a wing defender. With Schroeder and the aforementioned Westbrook and George, the Thunder offense can actually make the Warriors sweat. This is actually a team that can give
It has been suggested that the Rockets might have won last year, if not for an injury.
The Rockets shoot so many threes that 1) they are never out of a game and 2) a huge loss does not dampen their confidence. So, even when the Warriors win a game big, their offense is not deterred. The biggest negative is that James Harden may wear down, but the Rockets were able to win a game without Harden even playing.
Something about this style is just tough for the Warriors to match up with — Trevor Ariza out, Daniel House and Iman Shumpert in. The Warriors added someone bigger (Boogie Cousins), so the Rockets add Faried. With their early-season struggles behind them, the Rockets are a team that can seriously challenge the Warriors.
So, I’ve listed 4 teams that have even a small chance to win against the Warriors (Lakers, Jazz, Thunder, Rockets). Of course, if seeding holds, the Warriors won’t have to play more than one of these teams.
The basketball fan in me would like to see the best team ever get tested in each round. And if they make it through this gauntlet, will any of the Eastern teams be able to challenge them? Well, I’m out of words, so you’ll need to come back for part 3.