- The Golden State Warriors are once again heavy favorites to win the NBA championship.
- With a deep Western Conference and a top-heavy Eastern Conference, we ranked seven teams we think could give the Warriors a real test in the playoffs and Finals.
The NBA playoffs are almost here.
The NBA’s 82-game regular season is a grind, but next weekend, the real games begin, and 16 teams will begin their bids for the NBA Finals.
Once again, the Golden State Warriors are the heavy favorites, with Vegas Insiders listing them as 1-2 favorites to win the title. This regular season, their fifth in the Steve Kerr era, has been uninspiring, but the Warriors have made it no secret that they’ve been biding their time until the postseason.
The question becomes if anyone can stop the Warriors in their pursuit of a third straight championship and fourth in five years.
Including teams in the East that could meet them in the Finals, we ranked the seven teams we feel could give the Warriors a real fight in the playoffs.
7. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 45-34, 8th in West
Record vs. Warriors this season: 2-1
Why they can win: Not much can be taken from the Spurs-Warriors regular-season matchups, as neither team played with its full roster in any of the games.
The Spurs have had an up-and-down season with arguably its least-impressive roster since Gregg Popovich took over. However, they have a few things working on their side:
1. Institutional knowledge. The teams have played each other in the postseason the last two years, with the Warriors beating the Spurs in five games both times. The Warriors won’t be able to throw much at the Spurs that they haven’t seen.
2. Isolation scorers. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are like stars molded from the 1990s in today’s math-heavy NBA. Still, both players are perfectly capable of getting a basket when the game slows down. Their iso-heavy style could be necessary for slowing down the Warriors.
3. Gregg Popovich. Leave it to Pop and Co. to devise some plan to make Golden State uncomfortable. There’s no one in the NBA you’d rather have on your side for that matchup.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 45-33, 7th in West
Record vs. Warriors this season: 1-2
Why they can win: The Thunder are slumping at the wrong time of year, with major questions about Paul George’s health.
Still, at one point, the Thunder looked like the biggest threats to the Warriors. They have star power in George and Russell Westbrook. They have an identity: rough, physical, grind-it-out basketball that can take the Warriors out of their preferred system.
There are two big concerns: the Warriors won’t respect the Thunder’s shooting. They’ll crowd the paint to make life difficult on George and Westbrook and ignore the Thunder’s perimeter players.
Westbrook has also struggled mightily against the Warriors since Kevin Durant left in 2016. In 10 games, he’s 3-7 against Golden State, with six games where he shot below 40% from the field and seven games where he turned the ball over five or more times.
In an ideal world, the Thunder beat up the Warriors, make them play slow, half-court basketball, while George bothers Durant and Curry on defense, and the Thunder get the best, do-it-all version of Westbrook.
5. Boston Celtics
Record: 47-32, 4th in East
Record vs. Warriors: 1-1
Why they can win: The Celtics rank as one of this season’s most disappointing teams. But their collection of talent and tendency to show up in big games makes them impossible to quit as they head into the playoffs. Some in the league remain high on Boston. The Warriors, early in the season, even mentioned the Celtics as a team they fear most.
This matchup, of course, couldn’t happen until the Finals. Boston has a lot to prove until they get to that point. But the things that make Boston a good matchup against the Warriors are the same things that make them a threat to win the East: shot-making, defense, versatility.
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