With less than a week left in the regular season, the Golden State Warriors have found themselves in a critical position. After finally clinching a playoff birth, the Warriors could have 2 potential match-ups depending on if they finish as a 6th or 7th seed. The team has had their ups and downs this season with either injuries, players not playing up to expectations set, or drama in the locker room amongst their coaching stuff. The amount of critics and doubters are rapidly on the rise for the team in the Bay Area and that is nothing short of what coach Mark Jackson can wish for. Jackson performs better while under pressure. The team was counted out by nearly everyone last season when they were the underdogs against the Denver Nuggets, yet wound up winning the series in six games. The Warriors will be on the road again this season for at least the first round of the playoffs. There are two potential teams that they will face in the first round: either the Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder and Warriors have had some of the most thrilling games this season. Buzzer beating shots and late game heroics led by Andre Iguodala in Oakland and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City seem to be just a sneak preview of what might come if the teams wind up playing each other. It is also no secret that the Warriors and Clippers do not like each other. Their match-ups are always intense and some fights have almost broke out as a result of constant pushing and shoving along with elbows and words being exchanged. The series would be tight either way, but who would the Warriors have a better chance of defeating in the first round in a seven game series.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Season Series: Thunder @ Warriors 116-115 Warriors @ Thunder 113-112 (OT) Warriors @ Thunder 127-121
There is no shortage of star power when it comes to the Thunder and Warriors. The fans are no joke, either. Both Chesapeake Energy and Oracle Arena give their respective teams a huge advantage. The other six teams in the conference would prefer to have one of these two teams out of the playoffs early because the crowds will get louder and louder as the rounds progress. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry will draw all eyes during these games. Both players are some of the most fun to watch in the league and although they will rarely ever guard each other, the match-up is still a fun one to watch.
Westbrook did not play in one of the games for the Thunder, but that did not stop them from getting a win on their home floor. Durant dropped 54 points on the Warriors, who simply had no answer for him. But then again, who does? Durant is the second best basketball player in the world right now and it will take multiple defenders to try and slow him down. If you are throwing two defenders at Durant, that leaves Westbrook with more room to operate and he is a star in his own right. Coming off a few tough injuries, however, might slow him down during the playoffs if he gets tired or sore just based on not having enough time off to recover. The Warriors can take advantage with their depth compared to the Thunder’s lack-there-of.
Serge Ibaka is a huge presence defensively. David Lee usually struggles when he goes up against the athletic borderline star. The front-courts might practically cancel each other out and the match-ups will fall on the likes of the Splash Brothers, Iguodala and Draymond Green against KD, Westbrook, and whoever decides to take it up a notch for OKC. Derek Fisher is capable. Despite his age, Fisher can hit clutch shots when called upon. If games come down to the wire, don’t be surprised to see his number called, especially if Westbrook or Durant are defended well. This series would be tough for Golden State, but if there is any lower seed that can upset the mighty Thunder, it is the Warriors. The team has gotten better defensively to a point where they do not just try to outscore their opponent every game. If Iguodala gives it his all and Thompson is able to contain Westbrook with his length, the Thunder could possibly be upset.
Los Angeles Clippers
Season Series: Warriors @ Clippers 126-115 Clippers @ Warriors 105-103 Clippers @ Warriors 111-92 Warriors @ Clippers 111-98
The Clippers and Warriors is the marquee matchup that everyone was hoping to see at some point of the playoffs, and the chances of it happening are high. It’s clear: the teams hate each other. As much as everyone wants to call these teams rivals, I don’t see it yet. Rivals usually play in the playoffs against each other multiple times. These teams have yet to do that with their current cores of players. They might not like each other, and both are finally considered the best of the Pacific Division with the Los Angeles Lakers’ struggles (don’t worry, they’ll be back), but they are not true rivals. Nonetheless, this will be the best series of the first round for any general NBA fan.
Los Angeles will be tough opposition for anyone this season. Paul is hungry to show the doubters that he can win in the postseason. The new Blake Griffin is playing like we have never seen him play before, and the Warriors might be in for a long series of trying to contain him. Both teams have added key players to their bench and are deep in most positions across the board. Danny Granger adds a veteran presence to the Clippers the same way Steve Blake does to the Warriors. Both Jamal and Jordan Crawford are streaky, but both can be instant offensive threats off the bench. Curry and Paul might ultimately cancel each other out, so everyone else needs to be on their "A" game for their respective team. Harrison Barnes will be a huge x-factor for Golden State. If he plays the way he has been playing all season, the Warriors will not fare well against the Clippers. However, if he plays like the Barnes of last the postseason, the series can be a potential upset in the favor of the Warriors.
Klay Thompson will be defending Paul during the series for the most part, and Paul has shown his struggles in the past against lengthy defenders. The 6’7" Thompson will have a heavy task in front of him, and he probably won’t shut down Paul. He can limit him more than anyone else on the team can, though. Curry will need a monster series and Bogut will have to outplay DeAndre Jordan, who has turned into a defensive force this season. The Clippers will go as far as Griffin takes them this season in the playoffs. David Lee has surprisingly had good numbers and has played well against Griffin in the past. The Warriors will need him at full strength to go up against arguably the best power forward in the game today. No matter the outcome, there is no denying that this will be one heck of a series.