As we begin the final week of the NBA regular season, the playoff picture is coming into full view. Though the top 10 teams in each conference have yet to be mathematically finalized, it would take a highly doubtful combination of events for any team currently outside of playoff/play-in range to leapfrog into it.
For a while now, we've been able to safely assume that the Warriors will be in the play-in tournament. Their magic number to guarantee a top-10 finish in the Western Conference heading into Monday's game against the Utah Jazz is one, so they could clinch a spot by the end of the night.
At this point, there are really just two things left to be determined for Golden State: seeding and opponent.
The Warriors currently sit in eighth place in the West, half a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies. Though it's certainly possible the two teams could flip flop in the standings, especially since they face each other on the final day of the season, the Warriors definitely have the inside track to finish eighth. That's of particular importance, as finishing eighth would require the Warriors to win just one game to advance to the more traditional 16-team playoff, whereas finishing ninth would mean they would have to win two contests.
Why do they have the inside track? NBC News’ Steve Kornacki joined “Warriors Pregame Live” on Monday to break it all down. According to Kornacki’s model, the Warriors are favored to win each of their remaining four games, including the finale against Memphis, which would guarantee Golden State finishes with no worse than the eighth-best record in the West. On top of that, the Grizzlies have two sets of back-to-back games prior to the season finale against the Warriors, and none of their remaining opponents have been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention as of yet.
So, let's assume the Warriors finish in eighth. That would mean they would face the seventh-place team in the West in the play-in tournament, and the winner of that game would be the official No. 7 seed in the conference. The loser would go on to play the winner of the other play-in game -- between the ninth and 10th-place teams -- with the No. 8 seed on the line.
Technically, there are still four teams that could finish the regular season in seventh place in the West: the Dallas Mavericks (40-28), Portland Trail Blazers (39-29), Los Angeles Lakers (38-30) and Grizzlies (34-33). However, some are far more likely than others. For instance, Basketball Reference currently projects the Mavericks to have just a 2.2 percent chance of finishing in seventh, while the Grizzlies are even less likely (for obvious reasons) at 0.4 percent.
So, realistically, it's going to be either the Blazers (24.3 percent chance) or Lakers (73.1 percent). And of those two options, Dub Nation has made its preference clear as to which it would rather face in the play-in tournament:
Frankly, it's surprising the vote is even that close. The Warriors and Lakers deserve each other, but Golden State absolutely should be crossing its fingers that Portland falls to seventh.
Why? Well, let's just start with the obvious. The Warriors -- and every other team in the league -- would prefer to face Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in a one-game playoff than they would LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And that's not a slight against the Blazers' backcourt; it's just the reality of the situation.
Then consider the head-to-head matchups. The Warriors played the Lakers and Blazers three times each this season, with Golden State losing both season series two games to one. However, that doesn't tell the whole story. The Warriors' lone win over the Lakers was by two points; in the other two matchups, the Lakers absolutely trounced Golden State, with a margin of victory of 28.5 points. From a personnel standpoint, there are few teams that are a worse matchup for the Warriors than the defending champs.
The Warriors and Blazers played each other in consecutive games on Jan. 1 and 3, with each side earning a blowout win. In their third and final meeting in Portland on March 3, the Blazers prevailed 108-106 on a game-winning 3-pointer from (duh) Lillard.
Basically, a Warriors-Blazers matchup would be far closer to a toss-up than Golden State-Los Angeles. And given the tremendous postseason success the Warriors recently have experienced against the Blazers -- they've won 12 of 13 playoff games between the two teams in the last five years -- you'd have to imagine they'd be much more confident, and possibly better prepared, to face them than the Lakers.
Ultimately, though, the Warriors can only worry about what they can control, which is securing eighth place. If they can do that, they'll give themselves a much better chance of advancing, no matter which team they face in the play-in tournament.