Warriors

Should Warriors want to face Jazz or Suns in first round?

Warriors
Steph Curry, Donovan Mitchell

It has been a while since the top seeds in the Western Conference weren't something to be feared and avoided as long as possible.

For the last decade, the West's top teams, led by either Steph Curry, Tim Duncan, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, had teams running and hiding, trying to find a way to land on the other side of the bracket.

That, however, is not the story this year.

While the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns have had impressive seasons and will be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the West, respectively, no team at the bottom of the playoff standings is shaking in their boots about a potential first-round series against either team.

Least of all the Warriors, who just finished sweeping a back-to-back against both teams, giving Steph Curry and Co. a preview of both matchups they could face in Round 1 should they escape the play-in tournament.

The Warriors (37-33) currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference. Should they finish in the No. 8 slot, the Warriors would face either the Los Angeles Lakers or Portland Trail Blazers in the first play-in game. A win would give them the No. 7 seed and a first-round date with the Suns. A loss would force them to play the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game, with the winner earning the No. 8 seed and a trip to Salt Lake City.

As long as Curry is suiting up, the Warriors will fear no team, especially not two teams they just handed Ls to. But as of right now, the Jazz are more vulnerable and provide the Warriors a better opportunity to spring an upset.

 

The Jazz have had a phenomenal season to this point, but will enter the first round of the playoffs with star guard Donovan Mitchell having missed the last 16 games with a sprained right ankle. Mitchell will not play in the Jazz's remaining regular-season games. He has not played since April 16.

Likewise, the Jazz also have been without All-Star guard Mike Conley for the last eight games due to a sore hamstring, and Conley will miss Wednesday's game against the Trail Blazers. Should Conley sit out the final regular-season games, then the Jazz will have not played with their full complement of players for the last month, giving them the potential for a lot of rust in Round 1.

While the Jazz own a better defense than the Suns, Curry has had more success against Utah this season than Phoenix. In three games against the Jazz, Curry is averaging 33.2 points per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range. While Curry is averaging 33.9 points in two games against the Suns, his percentages are significantly lower as he's shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from distance against Phoenix.

Now, that could just be the product of two off nights for Curry, or perhaps the number of long, athletic wings the Suns can throw at him has an impact on his ability to get off clean looks.

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Finally, the Suns, with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and a number of solid role players, have more top-end firepower for the Warriors to worry about. The Warriors match up better against a team that relies on Mitchell's 1-on-1 ability to break down the defense and create than against a Suns team with Booker, Paul and Ayton.

Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic have been phenomenal this season, there's no doubt about it. But when the intensity gets ratcheted up in the playoffs, I'd rather have a possibly rusty Mitchell trying to create against Andrew Wiggins or Jordan Clarkson trying to do Jordan Clarkson things, than try to lock up Paul or Booker down the stretch.

These are the top two teams in the Western Conference, so is there a right answer? Who is to say. But I do think the Suns have a higher ceiling, better stars and another gear that the Warriors won't be able to match. I like the matchups better against Utah, especially with Mitchell and Conley just returning from injury. Plus, Clarkson is very likely to shoot the Jazz out of at least one game.

The Jazz and the Suns are the top two teams in the West for a reason. The Warriors will be underdogs no matter the matchup.

But as long as Curry is playing at an all-world level, the Warriors will have a puncher's chance. They'll just have a better opportunity to land a knockout blow against the Jazz.

 

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