Another Golden State-centric playoffs is upon us and the major question is the same: can anyone beat GS? This has been the question every year since 2015-16 and, with the exception of a Draymond Green groin kick, the answer has been no. Some odds makers certainly seem to think there is not much chance. But how challenged has GS really been these last few years? Let’s review the Warriors’ playoff runs in and how they dealt with their toughest competition during that span:
Warriors, 67-15, 10.01 SRS
Clippers, 56-26, 6.80 SRS
Spurs, 55-27, 6.34 SRS
The Warriors were clearly the best team in the NBA but they avoided the two best teams. The Clippers beat the Spurs in the First Round and then the Clipps lost a tough series to the Rockets, where Chris Paul missed two games.
Warriors, 73-9, 10.38 SRS
Spurs, 67-15, 10.28 SRS
Thunder, 55-27, 7.09 SRS
The Warriors famously lost to the Cavs (57-25, 5.45 SRS) due to a confluence of circumstances, some which were impressive (LeBron James’ incredible play) and some which were bad luck/decision making (Draymond suspension and the Andrew Bogut injury for Game 7. The Spurs were primed for a showdown with the Warriors but lost a crazy series to the Thunder where Dion Waiters did all sorts of wonky things that he couldn’t recreate if he tried. OKC went up 3-1 on the Warriors before being overwhelmed by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Warriors, 67-15, 11.35 SRS
Spurs, 61-21, 7.13 SRS
Rockets, 55-27, 5.84 SRS
The Spurs were all primed for their shot at the Warriors but Kawhi Leonard hurt himself at the end of Game 1 of the Conference Finals, resulting in a sweep (and essentially ending Leonard’s tenure as a Spur). The Warriors also avoided the Rockets, who lost to the Spurs.
Warriors, 58-24, 5.79 SRS
Rockets, 65-17, 8.21 SRS
Raptors, 59-23, 7.29 SRS
By the numbers, the Warriors were inferior to the Rockets. As noted above, GS probably should’ve lost that series but for CP3’s untimely hamstring injury. The Warriors also avoided the Raps, because they crumbled under too much LBJ.
So, the Warriors have been fortunate to have avoided most of the best teams in the past playoffs or those teams had serious injuries at bad times. This brings us to this year. How does GS stack up this time? Let’s take a look:
Warriors, 57-25, 6.42 SRS
Bucks, 60-22, 8.04 SRS
Raptors, 58-24, 5.49 SRS
Jazz, 50-32, 5.28 SRS
For the first time, there is no super scary second team in the West for the Warriors. Yes, there are a bunch of pretty good teams but none looks anywhere near as dominant as the old Spurs or even the 2015-16 Thunder. On the other hand, the Bucks are probably the best team the Warriors might face in the playoffs since the Curry-led run started in 2014-15 (excluding the 2017-18 Rockets because they lost Paul).
The Rockets dodged a bullet last season and they are still a favorite off many, but it looks like they should not be the prohibitive favorite. With that said, here are the specific predictions…
-Bucks v. Pistons: The worst playoff team against the best. The Pistons were 0-4 against Milwaukee this year and lost three of four by double digits. Prediction: Bucks win 4-0.
-Raptors v. Magic: The Magic have played well of late and were 2-2 against Toronto this year. In addition, there is some moderate intrigue in Terrence Ross and Serge Ibaka squaring off after being traded for each other. Still, the Raptors are their usual good selves. Orlando just can’t score enough to win. Prediction: Raptors win 4-1.
-76ers v. Nets: There is a little intrigue here too because the Nets have played Philly tough and Joel Embiid has some injury issues. The Nets’ path to victory involves Embiid being hampered and D’Angelo Russell and/or Spencer Dinwiddie getting really hot. This is possible but not probable, so you better check each game’s odds the day of because they could change quickly. Prediction: 76ers win 4-2.
-Celtics v. Pacers: Boston’s season has been a bit of a regression. They have looked listless at times but this is still a good team, which plays above average offense and defense. Losing Marcus Smart isn’t ideal but the Pacers, who have no Victor Oladipo, are less than sympathetic. The Pacers were good with Oladipo (32-15) and played hard since. Despite the feistiness, the bottom line is that the post-Oladipo Pacers are 16-19 and really no different than most of the bottom rung playoff teams. Prediction: Celtics win 4-1.
-Warriors v. Clippers: ESPN reported that the Warriors are the mostly heavily favored team in an NBA playoff series since tracking of this began in 1988. The Clipps have no chance but it seems odd that they would be considered so weak. There are plenty worse eight seeds and better one seeds in the past. The current Clippers were a respectable 47-35 and actually beat GS once in the regular season. Are you telling us that these Clipps are less likely to win than say the 1996-97 Clipps? Check tale of the tape from the Jazz/Clippers one versus eight match up in the 1996-97: Utah was 64-18, 7.97 SRS and the Clippers were 36-46, -2.66 SRS. Nevertheless, GS is winning this thing easy. Prediction: Warriors win 4-0.
-Nuggets v. Spurs: The Nuggets started out great and slowly faded. They are still a very good team but on a par with the other contenders, as opposed to GS’s prime antagonist. The Spurs are a solid team but they are actually poor defensively and a bad road team. This is a bad combination to beat Denver. Prediction: Nuggets win 4-1.
-Blazers v. Thunder: Despite the fact that OKC is a six-seed, they are clearly on par with Portland and match up well against them. OKC swept the season series 4-0, though two of the games were very close. Put that together with the Blazers losing Jusuf Nurkic and OKC seems like a clear favorite. Prediction: Thunder win 4-2.
-Rockets v. Jazz: By SRS, the Rockets and Jazz are the second and third best teams in the West. Utah even has a slight edge. But it’s just too hard to stop James Harden in a playoff series. Utah’s tepid offense (27th in turnovers) particularly helps Houston, which does not usually defend great. This should be the best first round series but Harden pushes Houston over the top. Prediction: Rockets win 4-2.
-Bucks beat Celtics, 4-1
-Raptors beat 76ers, 4-3
-Warriors beat Rockets, 4-2
-Nuggets beat Thunder, 4-3
-Bucks beat Raptors, 4-3
-Warriors beat Nuggets, 4-1
-Bucks beat Warriors, 4-2