Steinmetz: Warriors should fear Grizzlies in playoffs
The Warriors won three of four matchups with the Clippers this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Let’s not overthink this: When it comes to the Warriors and their first-round opponent in the playoffs, there is absolutely one team they’d rather play above all others: The L.A. Clippers.
But the Warriors don’t have all the say-so when it comes to which team they’re going to play in the first round. If they can remain in the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference, they’d end up playing the Clippers, Denver or Memphis.
If the Warriors were to slip to the No. 7 or No. 8 spot, they would likely open with either the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs.
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If you’re a Warriors’ fan, and you’re hoping for a first-round upset by your squad, here are your most preferable opponents, in order:
<b>1. Los Angeles Clippers: </b>Of all the teams the Warriors could play, they would certainly have more confidence against the Clippers than they would any other team. For one, the Warriors won three out of four games between the teams this year, and for two, Stephen Curry and David Lee have matched up well against Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the past.
Curry and Paul go way back, practicing together in past summers, and they know each other’s games extremely well. That familiarity takes away a psychological edge Paul has against many other guards. In short, Curry plays Paul well. Of course, that’s subject to change, but it’s been the case so far in the pros.
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Who knows why, but Lee seems to play with more of an edge against Griffin than he does against some other power forwards, and it serves him well.
Another other thing about the Clippers as it relates to the four other teams is that they seem to be the most likely of the five to fray at the edges and come apart the tighter things get in a series.
<b>2. Memphis Grizzlies: </b>Yes, the Warriors have lost nine in a row to the Grizzlies but they’ve only lost one in a row to them since Memphis traded Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince.
In addition, Andrew Bogut seems to be getting more and more spry, and that should certainly make him more effective against Marc Gasol, who is a multi-dimensional player and has hurt the Warriors.
The Warriors have had difficulty matching up against Gasol and Zach Randolph over the course of the past few years, and it’s mostly because Gasol and Randolph are two big, skilled and physical players. They’re also tough.
There’s also an issue in the backcourt, and it’s defensive stopper Tony Allen, who has the ability to take a player out of a game on a given night.
Allen has had success against Klay Thompson this season, and if need be, he could always move over and guard Curry. Although, truth be told, Memphis point guard Mike Conley has done just fine in his individual matchup with Curry, thank you.
<b>3. Denver Nuggets: </b>There are a few things that make the Nuggets an unfavorable matchup for the Warriors, but one of the more significant ones is their depth. The Nuggets go nine deep, and all nine are quality NBA players.
If you put that up against the Warriors, who pretty much ride seven players, that’s an advantage Denver’s way. Andre Igoudala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have size and versatility at the wing positions. Power forward Kenneth Faried is a relentless rebounder who’s given the Warriors trouble.
Ty Lawson, Andre Miller and Corey Brewer are a terrific backcourt trio – capable of playing in variety of different ways.
Another aspect that tilts in favor of the Nuggets – at least to my way of thinking – is coaching. As well as Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson has done this season, I’m still thinking Karl would be the coach most likely to make the subtle or overt coaching move to help his team win the series.
Karl has some Don Nelson in him, and if the situation calls for it, he’ll do something unconventional if things get desperate.
One more bad thing: The Nuggets are 33-3 at home this season. On the bright side, it means they’re beatable in Oakland. Which means maybe all you’d have to do is win one in Denver.
<b>4. Oklahoma City Thunder: </b>Where do you start with this team? The Thunder have a combination of length and athleticism – Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefalosha, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka – that has overwhelmed the Warriors at times in the past.
You could make a case that the Thunder would have the two best players on their team in this series, and if that’s the case, then it’s big trouble against them.
While Kendrick Perkins is limited offensively, when he’s partnered with Ibaka up front, it’s a front line that’s difficult to score against. Nick Collison is sound off the bench.
And if Oklahoma City is forcing misses, chances are they’re getting out on the break with their sensational open-court players.
If this team has a weakness, it’s playing in the halfcourt and execution down the stretch of games. But those aren’t exactly Warriors’ strengths, either.
<b>5. San Antonio Spurs: </b>The cold, hard facts are these: The Warriors have lost 29 consecutive games in San Antonio, and have never beaten a Tim Duncan team there; coming into this season, the Warriors had dropped 15 overall to the Spurs.
There are reasons why – at least in recent years. First of all, the Warriors start at a disadvantage at both of their positions of strength – point guard and power forward – because Tony Parker and Tim Duncan trump Curry and Lee.
But it’s more than that. The Spurs are not only a team that has a talent advantage over the Warriors, they are a team that plays more fundamentally sound than the Warriors. That’s a brutal combination to try to beat.
The Spurs’ defense is so solid that it can’t be beaten any one consistent way. Not over the course of a seven-game series. Or it wouldn’t seem. At this point, the Warriors don’t have enough weapons to compensate for that defensive balance.
Of all the teams the Warriors could end up facing in the first round, the Spurs would be the worst draw.