The last time Steph Curry and the Warriors were in the playoffs, they were competing for an NBA title. Next week they’ll simply be fighting to get into the first round.
Golden State has secured its spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament as a No. 8 or No. 9 seed, unlike the dynasty years when a No. 1 seed seemed like a given. Still, the Warriors figure to be a feared opponent in the playoffs.
A panel of five NBA experts at ESPN -- Andrew Lopez, Kevin Pelton, Ramona Shelburne, Andre Snellings and Ohm Youngmisuk -- unanimously picked the Warriors to advance out of the West’s four-team play-in tournament.
The main reason? It’s hard to pick against No. 30.
“Golden State is riding the Curry wave right now -- there's no hotter player in the league,” Youngmisuk wrote.
Four out of the five experts also picked the Los Angeles Lakers to join the Warriors in the first round, even though the two teams could face off in the No. 7 vs. No. 8 seed game, meaning the loser would have to top the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game.
“They seem destined for those last two slots,” Lopez wrote. “Anthony Davis has seemingly played himself into form, and LeBron [James] has almost a week to start developing a groove before the play-in. That makes the Lakers the favorite to blast out of the play-in as a legit threat to defend their title. And the Warriors have championship-tested leaders in the ascendant Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, which should be enough to lead them through the play-in and into the big tournament.”
Golden State is peaking at the right time despite a shorthanded roster, securing back-to-back wins over the top two teams in the NBA without Kelly Oubre Jr. (left wrist), Eric Paschall (left hip flexor) and James Wiseman (knee surgery).
Even though Curry is playing out of his mind this season, he showed he was human with a 21-point performance Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns. But the Warriors picked him up, highlighted by Andrew Wiggins' 38-point performance.
The experts are high on the Warriors for their championship experience. So long as Curry and Green are captaining the ship, Golden State will be a tough out for any team in any round.
Last year was a lost cause with all the injuries, but these guys aren’t used to early exits in the playoffs. Curry and Green felt the sting of a first-round exit in 2014 against the Los Angeles Clippers but made five straight NBA Finals runs after that.
Media predictions don’t hold any weight once the ball is tipped off, but it appears expectations still are high for the Warriors, who have been there and done that.