OAKLAND -- After losing two of three games this season to Houston, the Warriors remain unconcerned. They quietly believe they’d smash the Rockets in the postseason.
Despite a 2-2 season-series draw with Denver, the Warriors feel the same way about the Nuggets. Some of that likely relates to their postseason inexperience, which is a factor that also applies to the Timberwolves.
The Warriors swept the Trail Blazers last April and the Spurs last May and feel nothing would change in the 2018 playoffs.
Oklahoma City is a different beast. The Warriors fear no team, but there is at least an iota of trepidation regarding the Thunder, whose 108-91 thumping of the Warriors on Nov. 22 in Oklahoma City was at the time the most lopsided loss of the season.
Which is why OKC’s first trip to Oakland this season Tuesday night is rather fascinating.
For no fewer than four reasons, it’s likely that no postseason series within the Western Conference would challenge the Warriors as much as one against the Thunder.
Reason No. 1 is that OKC has three players -- Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook -- capable of creating their own offense. All three are comfortable in isolation or pick-and-roll, and there is more of each in the postseason.
Reason No. 2 is the Thunder’s defense. OKC has been a top-5 defense all season mostly because 6-foot-7 shooting guard Andre Roberson elite on that end, while 6-9 forward Paul George and 7-foot center Steven Adams are above average.
This factor has been compromised with the season-ending injury Roberson sustained 10 days ago. The Thunder’s defensive rating was 101.8 though Dec. 30. It’s 107.0 since, with Roberson missing 13 of the 18 games. In the five games, for of them losses, since he left the lineup for good, the rating has soared to 108.4.
“When you lose a guy who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, with that kind of length and mobility, it’s only natural that your defense is going to suffer,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re probably going through a little bit of a spell now where they have to adjust and figure out rotations and that’s never an easy time in the NBA to deal with that.”
OKC is 24-15 when Roberson plays, 6-9 when he doesn’t. The Thunder reportedly are interested in Utah guard Rodney Hood, a solid defender and a much better scorer than Roberson. For now, they’ve turned to 19-year-old Terrence Ferguson, who has struggled. OKC coach Billy Donovan on Monday declined to say who would start at shooting guard against the Warriors.
The absence of Roberson makes the Thunder a bit less imposing, but not enough for the Warriors or any other potential opponent to presume anything.
Which brings us to Reason No. 3: Adams. Relentless in the paint and the league’s best offensive rebounder, he was a problem for the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, and he’d be a problem in the ’18 playoffs. Adams is far more athletic than Zaza Pachulia and much bigger than anybody else the Warriors have.
Reason No. 4 is the sideshow that would come with Kevin Durant facing his former team in the postseason. Even if Durant wouldn’t be bothered by it, the Warriors would just as soon skip a subplot that surely would be overheated to the point of exhaustion.
The Warriors don’t put much stock in regular season results. They learned two seasons ago that wins alone are not a good predictor of postseason success. They learned last season that could sweep a team, San Antonio, that clobbered them by 29 on opening night, when they unveiled Durant to the Bay Area audience.
Certain games, though, quicken the collective pulse of the Warriors more than others and OKC has to be one of them. And it comes at a time when the Warriors are trying, and not always succeeding, to shake pre-All-Star-break tedium.
“The excuse we had last week is no longer an excuse,” Kerr said. “We’re going to be in our own beds for the next week. We’ve got great teams coming in. We should feel like this is a week we can take advantage of.”
As the Warriors cast an eye toward April, they also know these next nine weeks matter. That’s plenty of time for them to find the best of themselves, something they’ll need no matter the opponents in the second season.