When Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the Warriors were lucky they didn’t have to play the Spurs or Clippers during this past offseason, it obviously struck a nerve with the Golden State organization and fans.
The implication was that if the Warriors would have met either of those teams in the 2015 playoffs, Golden State might not have won the title. That sounded like sour grapes from a coach whose team melted down during the Western Conference semifinals, but nevertheless the criticism stung … and has been remembered.
Well, without addressing how hard or easy it was for the Warriors to go 16-5 in the postseason and win their first title in 40 years last year, one thing does seem apparent: Winning a title this year is going to be a lot harder than winning one last year.
Here was the Warriors’ run to the title last season: New Orleans, Memphis, Houston, Cleveland. The reality was that the Pelicans and Rockets had virtually no chance to beat the Warriors in a seven-game series, given health. The Warriors had owned both teams heading into the playoffs … had each team’s number in a big way and still do. Golden State swept last year’s season series with Houston and the Warriors entered the playoffs having beaten the Pelicans 6 of their past 7.
To further pile on, the Warriors are 2-0 vs. New Orleans this year and 3-0 vs. Houston. That’s been flat-out ownage of those teams by Golden State. Those two teams struggle to beat the Warriors in a game, let alone a series.
Memphis and Cleveland were no doubt challenging matchups for the Warriors. It wasn’t long ago that the Grizzlies were a nightmare matchup for Golden State. But the Warriors had mostly exorcised those past demons by the time of the playoffs in 2015 The Warriors beat the Grizzlies two out of three during the regular season last year and were 4-3 against them over the past two years. Cleveland, of course, was missing Kevin Love for the whole NBA Finals and Kyrie Irving for most of it.
While nothing is nailed down in terms of the Western Conference playoffs, you can start to see some things developing. It sure looks like the Warriors are going to get either the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks or Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. There’s little doubt that the worst of those three matchups would be against Portland.
After the first round is when things would stiffen. The bottom line is that the Warriors would be looking at playing the LA Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder in the next round – and then the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals. This, of course, is assuming some things but the assumptions aren’t farfetched.
The point is this – which is more difficult:
–New Orleans, Memphis, Houston, Cleveland or
–Portland, LA Clippers, San Antonio, Cleveland?
That answer is obvious. The Warriors appear to be an even better team than last year and will go into the playoffs the likely favorite to win it all again. And I sure as heck wouldn’t bet against them at this point. But their road to this year’s championship is going to be a tougher slog for them than last year, which is probably good in the end.
Because if they repeat, not even Doc Rivers can say anything.