Warriors

Who Warriors are most likely to play in first round of NBA playoffs

Who Warriors are most likely to play in first round of NBA playoffs

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

On Wednesday, I looked into the race between the Warriors and the Nuggets for the top spot in the West, and based on their schedules, concluded that the Warriors have the easier path to their goal.

But if they were to finish with the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs, who would they play in the first round? As of now, four teams are tied for the final four spots in the West playoffs. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers all own a 42-30 record. 

By breaking down their upcoming schedules and examining how they have been playing recently, let's rank the teams and their likeliness to be the No. 8 seed and potentially face the Warriors in the first round.

Let's look at the least likely to face the Warriors first, and follow with the teams most likely.

4) Utah Jazz

After winning five games in a row, the Jazz lost a disappointing game in Atlanta on Thursday. But if they are able to go back to their winning ways against lesser opponents, their schedule is ripe for another winning streak.

The next eight games the Jazz play are against teams with records below .500, and five of the games are played at home. If the Jazz are able to take advantage of that weak stretch, then they will be playing with confidence heading into important matchups in the final two games against tougher opponents.

Utah will finish the season at home against Denver, who is only 18-16 on the road this season, and then at the Clippers for a game that could dictate the final standings. All-in-all, the Jazz will go into this final 10-game stretch with a path primed for a No. 6 or No. 7 seed.

3) San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs recently broke a nine-game winning streak -- which included an impressive victory over the Warriors -- by losing to the Miami Heat at home. Despite that loss, the Spurs are one of the hottest teams in the NBA and playing some of their best ball of the season.

They will need to play their best as their final stretch of ten games begins with two very tough matchups, playing on the road in Houston and in Boston. Even if the Spurs were to drop both of those games, the following eight games are much easier.

Beginning with a game in Charlotte, the Spurs will play seven of their final eight games against teams with records below .500. If they are able to win six of their final eight, it would be hard to imagine the Spurs finishing in the No. 8 seed with 48 wins or more.

2) Los Angeles Clippers

The Warriors may want to play the Clippers the most in the first round, due to the familiar matchup and the close proximity. But with the way the Clips have been playing recently, it seems like Los Angeles might be able to avoid it.

The Clippers have won eight of their last nine games and have played so well that some are saying that head coach Doc Rivers could be a dark horse candidate for Coach of the Year. They will have to keep playing well, however, if they want to stay out of the  No. 8 seed as their upcoming schedule has some tough games.

Their first three games are on the road against weak teams, but after that, their final seven games include matchups at Milwaukee, at home against Houston, on the road at Golden State and at home versus the Jazz to finish the season.

If the Clippers could steal a win or two in those tough games, then they could potentially finish around a 47-48 win season and stay out of the playoffs cellar. 

1) Oklahoma City Thunder

This is not good news for the Warriors. The Thunder, despite their inconsistency this year, are not a fun matchup for the Dubs. While Golden State would definitely be favored, the Thunder can make the series uncomfortable as they are long, athletic and play some hard-nosed basketball.

[RELATED: Thunder forward Morris says Warriors no longer "invincible"]

If the Warriors are to avoid them in the first round, then the Thunder will have to change their recent poor play -- and do so against a pretty tough schedule. OKC has lost four games in a row, albeit against good competition, but now play their final ten games that include hard matchups at Toronto, at home against Indiana, Denver, Detroit and Houston, and finally finishing the season at Milwaukee.

Both the Warriors and the Thunder would love to avoid each other in the first round, but the matchup is looking more and more likely with every Thunder loss. 

Warriors' Steve Kerr makes odd request of Steph Curry in NBA playoffs

Warriors' Steve Kerr makes odd request of Steph Curry in NBA playoffs

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr’s latest request of Steph Curry is short, simple and initially puzzling: Let ‘em score.

Three words, easily understood, but completely against the competitive instincts of an elite NBA player conditioned to accept defense as an essential part of the game.

Kerr isn’t telling Curry to neglect defense. Rather, the coach is advising his superstar to weigh his overall value to the Warriors in the NBA playoffs against the significance of committing fouls in hopes of preventing two points.

“Sometimes, he just gets in the habit of trying to strip the ball,” Kerr said Tuesday after practice. “So, more than anything, it’s just about trying to get him past that habit. I keep telling him how valuable he is. I’d much rather he just got out of the guy’s way and gave him a layup and kept playing.

“He’s much more valuable than two points. And we’ve got plenty of help; our defense is predicated on help.”

This, in the big picture, makes sense. While the Warriors seek to close out the Clippers in Game 5 of their first-round series Wednesday, advancing likely means getting a dose of potent Houston.

Anyone care to imagine Curry on the bench with foul trouble against the Rockets?

Curry’s impact against Los Angeles was neutralized by foul trouble in Games 3 and 4. Though having him on the bench for long stretches, saddled with foul trouble, is not ideal in this series, it would invite disaster should the Warriors advance and face Houston.

After committing four or more fouls just four times over the final 27 games of the regular season, Curry has been whistled at least that often in every game against LA. Picking up five fouls in Game 3, including his fourth early in the third quarter, limited him to 20 minutes.

So Curry, prior to Game 4, put a message on his shoes, “No Reach” -- a reminder to avoid a tendency that usually is his quickest route to foul trouble.

“I have confidence in my hand-eye coordination and hand speed,” Curry said. “That’s how I get steals usually, by being quick. But that’s how I get fouls, too, so I’ve got to balance both of them.

“The ones I’ve had trouble with in this series are ones that I shouldn’t even be in that situation to begin with. There’s help behind the play. I’m not even involved in the play, really. I’m just kind of lunging at it. That’s just a lack of focus.

“We could nitpick each one of them and understand exactly why. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to continue to stay on the floor on our normal rotations and not foul.”

There was progress in Game 4 insofar as Curry generally avoided reaching. And when he committed his third foul with 4:16 left in the first half, Kerr stayed with him.

Curry rewarded the coach by playing the rest of the half and the entire third quarter without a whistle. He played 35 minutes, committing four fouls.

Moreover, the Warriors won both games.

[RELATED: Beverley explains why he doesn't talk trash to Curry]

“If he’s got a couple fouls already, he should be able to play with those fouls,” Kerr said. “I’ve always trusted him. Since I’ve been here, I’ve generally played him with two fouls in the first half or three in the third quarter. I believe in letting a guy go, letting him play, a star player like that especially. The second half was a great sign that he’s kind of made it past that habit.”

The Warriors would like to think so.

They’d like to believe that building better habits in this series will make them stronger in the next one. History has shown they are strongest with Curry on the floor.

Richard Jefferson offers opinion on Kevin Durant's comments about media

Richard Jefferson offers opinion on Kevin Durant's comments about media

Programming note: Watch the pregame edition of Warriors Outsiders on Wednesday night at 6, streaming live on the MyTeams app.

Richard Jefferson gets paid to talk about basketball and express his opinions.

Over the last couple of years, he hasn't shied away from discussing his feelings about the Warriors and/or Kevin Durant.

On Tuesday, he was a guest on ESPN's show "The Jump" and KD's recent comments about the media was obviously a topic of conversation.

"You go back and look at the history of the game -- Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the amount of pressure that they had to save this league; Michael Jordan, no player to me has ever had so much weight on his shoulders; then you go forward to Kobe Bryant after the post-Jordan era; then all of a sudden Kobe kind of faded away because LeBron James was in the prime of his career.

"If you want that 'Best player, I'm going to be the guy to hold this league down the next five years' (title), you need to be able to handle this better than how he (Durant) has," Jefferson said. "We need you, the game of basketball needs you to be better at this."

So what did KD say exactly?

“They need me. If I wasn’t a free agent, none of this s--t would go on, right?" the reigning two-time Finals MVP told NBC Sports Bay Area's Logan Murdock. “ None of this speculation about who I am, what’s wrong with my mental, why I’m miserable, why I ain’t happy with life. Nothing.”

Last summer, Durant elected to sign another "1+1" contract with the Warriors in order to maintain flexibility and possess the option to become a free agent again this summer. Ever since, there has been rampant speculation about his future and incessant discussion about his state of mind.

Back in mid-November, Steph Curry said: "With how active our guys are on social media, it’s hard not to see that stuff. But it tests your character, makes you figure out how to compartmentalize stuff. Either you take it as entertainment or you get influenced by it. Whatever you think, however you are in real life, in terms of how impressionable you are, how insecure you might be, how confident in yourself you might be, that’ll all reflect in how you handle it.”

Things boiled over for Durant in early February when the 10-time All-Star broke his silence and lashed out at the media following the Warriors' win over the Spurs.

[RELATEDJerry West believes Warriors' weak point is very obvious]

Jefferson has the utmost respect for KD the basketball player, but believes he needs to tweak his approach to reporters.

"I think he's on the Mount Rushmore of this generation," Jefferson added. "But make no mistake, the game of basketball -- which has provided for me, all of us, all of our families and his -- needs him to be able to handle this better because that's what the title of 'king' means.

"When you are the king, when you are No. 1, that means you have a ton more responsibility that you have to handle or you're not fit for that."

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