It’s been six years since the Golden State Warriors last made the playoffs, and who can forget the inspiring 2007 “We Believe” season, when the Warriors stunned the basketball world by taking down the heavily favorited, top-seeded Dallas Mavericks? As the Warriors head back to the playoffs, they, again, are greatly underrated. This year’s squad has the talent and motivation to make another magical run deep into the playoffs.
Golden State has already vastly exceeded expectations this year. Before the season, many analysts picked them to finish near the bottom of the western conference. As one of the most overlooked teams, the Warriors have what the New York Magazine describes as the “NBA’s [National Basketball Association] most underrated fanbase”, superb team chemistry and record-setting three-point shooting. While many of their players lack significant playoff experience, the “Dubs” are still a young, athletic and trendy team that can do some major damage in a wide open Western Conference.
The Warriors have two all-star caliber players in Stephen Curry and David Lee. Curry averaged 22.9 points per game this season and surpassed Ray Allen’s single season mark with 272 three-pointers. He not only made a myriad of threes, but he also has shot them at 45 percent, good for third in the league. Curry clearly has the ability to put up points in bunches and single-handedly win playoff games with his blazing hot shooting, but his greatest growth this season was with his passing, as evidenced by his 6.9 assists per game. Even on an off-shooting night, he can get his teammates involved and lead them to victory. Meanwhile, David Lee is versatile big man who quietly led the league in double-doubles. Averaging 18.5 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game, Lee can work in the post as well as run the floor.
Unlike previous years, Golden State has surrounded its stars with key role players. Klay Thompson was third in the league in three pointers made and combines with Curry in a backcourt that is deadly from beyond the arc. Seven-footer Andrew Bogut seems to finally have gotten over his injury woes and is a key asset on the defensive side of the ball. Harrison Barnes is only a rookie, but he is an athletic beast with no shortage of highlight plays. The Warriors also have a solid bench, with new acquisitions Carl Landry contributing key minutes and Jarrett Jack emerging as a sixth man of the year contender.
By securing the sixth seed in the west, the Warriors are set to face the third seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. While this isn’t one of those high-profile matchups between big name teams, it could still prove to be a very intriguing series. The Nuggets are a fast-paced team who like to put up points in bunches, but they are also susceptible to giving up points in bunches. The Warriors like to run themselves, so they should have no problem keeping up with the Nuggets. Furthermore, the Nugs have recently been plagued by some key injuries. They lost their second leading scorer and playmaker Danilo Gallinari to a season-ending ACL injury and Kenneth Faried is listed as doubtful for game 1 with an ankle injury. Without Gallinari and possibly Faried, the Nuggets are no more than a team of role players. I expect the Warriors to take the series as the Nuggets struggle to find a clutch scorer down the stretch.
In the second round, Golden State would most likely play the San Antonio Spurs. In the first round, the second-seeded Spurs would pummel a Kobe-less Lakers squad that doesn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs. The Spurs are a very well-coached team under Greg Popovich and led by a savvy group of veterans. But with Tony Parker at age 30, Manu Ginobili at 35, and Tim Duncan at 36, this could be the year that their age finally catches up to them. I see the Warriors pulling off the massive upset in a thrilling series that goes to seven games.
However I believe the Warriors’ run ends in the Western Conference Finals at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Led by MVP [Most Valuable Player] candidate Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are one of the most explosive teams in the NBA and probably the only team that can compete with the Miami Heat in the Finals.
Anything can happen in this year’s playoffs. The Warriors could burn out in the first round or catch fire and make a deep run. I believe the latter will come true as Curry flourishes under pressure and continues his unprecedented three-point shooting. At the end of the day, the Golden State Warriors have already exceeded all expectations and should already consider this season a massive success. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warriors are still playing basketball a month from now.