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. 

What Klay Thompson said to Kevin Durant about re-signing with Warriors

What Klay Thompson said to Kevin Durant about re-signing with Warriors

Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant were unrestricted free agents this summer.

While Thompson re-signed with the Warriors, KD chose to join the Brooklyn Nets.

Outside of one simple message, the five-time All-Star Thompson didn't say much to the 10-time All-Star Durant in terms of recruiting him to stay with Golden State.

“I mostly just let him be, but I told him we could have the greatest dynasty ever,” Klay told Mark Medina of USA Today Sports.

Oh what could have been.

The Warriors won the title in 2015 and dropped Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals after winning an NBA single-season record 73 games during the regular season.

With Durant onboard, Golden State captured back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018, and almost assuredly would have accomplished the three-peat if KD and Klay had been fully healthy against the Raptors a couple of months ago.

A core -- healthy of course -- of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Durant and Thompson would have remained the favorites for years to come. But that isn't how things played out.

[RELATEDCould KD return from torn Achilles in time to play Dubs?]

"A change of heart, man," Thompson told Medina. "But I’m never going to hold it against him. He wanted to go to New York City. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

That is correct.

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Klay Thompson believes Warriors win NBA Finals if he doesn't tear ACL

Klay Thompson believes Warriors win NBA Finals if he doesn't tear ACL

The play forever will go down in NBA history. Klay Thompson clutching his knee in agony on the Oracle Arena floor in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals is a sight Warriors fans wish they could erase. 

But it also brings up one of the biggest what-ifs ever in basketball. What if Thompson cleanly finished his dunk attempt with 2:22 left in the third quarter against the Raptors and never tore his ACL? 

For Thompson, the answer to that scenario is an easy one. 

“In my mind, yes, we would’ve won if I didn’t get hurt,” Thompson told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson. “But that’s just the nature of sports, you know? What-ifs? It doesn’t matter. It’s if you do your deed or not. In my mind, I think we would’ve. But you never know. That’s the hard part you’ve got to accept." 

Klay was at his best when he went down. He scored 30 points in 32 minutes in Game 6, and that was just the continuation of a fantastic series against Toronto. Thompson averaged 26 points in five games while shooting a ridiculous 59.4 percent from 3-point range. Catching fire isn't anything new for the five-time All-Star, but this might have been the best version of Thomson anyone has seen. 

He also knows the reality of injuries. While Thompson has been extremely durable for the Dubs over his eight-year career, he has seen stars go down in the past against Golden State on the biggest stage. 

Rehabbing from his own injury now gives him a much different perspective. 

"I look at all the guys who had bad luck getting injured against us the last few years, and I’ve honestly become so much more sympathetic," Thompson. "Yeah. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

[RELATED: Klay should sit out two years, one top knee doctor says]

Despite Kevin Durant leaving in free agency and the Warriors dealing with a whole new roster, Thompson believes the team's dynasty is far from over. But this dynasty, and the future of the NBA, could have looked a lot different with a healthy Klay Thompson in the rest of Game 6 and beyond. 

What-ifs have happened before and they will happen again. For Warriors fans, however, this one will sting for a lifetime.