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Who the Golden State Warriors would like to face in the Play-In Tournament

The seventh through 10th seeds in the NBA’s Western Conference are neck and neck with the Dallas Mavericks only two games ahead the Golden State Warriors. Caught in the middle are the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies at eighth and ninth, respectively. Behind those teams, the Sacramento Kings (11th) and New Orleans Pelicans (12th) are creeping up the standings, with both teams within a game-and-a-half of the Warriors for the final play-in spot.

The big picture: If the Golden State Warriors can’t make it to the top-six seeds in the Western Conference, here are some scenarios regarding who they could potentially face in the play-in tournament.

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Best-case scenario: Golden State Warriors leapfrog to sixth and above, skip play-in altogether

Golden State Warriors best-case scenario for NBA Playoffs
March 29, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the basketball against Chicago Bulls forward Garrett Temple (17) during the first quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As the best-case scenario, the Warriors skip the play-in altogether by leapfrogging to the sixth seed and above. Considering the Warriors have the fourth-weakest (.475) schedule remaining – barely beating out the Los Angeles Clippers (.474), Utah Jazz (.472) and Washington Wizards (.471) – it’s entirely possible for Golden State to end up in the sixth seed and face the Phoenix Suns or the aforementioned Clippers.

As it stands, the Warriors’ toughest opponents are:

  • VS- Utah Jazz
  • AT- Philadelphia 76ers
  • VS- Phoenix Suns
  • VS- Milwaukee Bucks
  • VS- Denver Nuggets (X2)

Considering most of the tougher matchups are in the confines of Chase Center, this could be a way for Golden State to shoot up the standings. Currently, the Warriors are 14-9 at home, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Golden State to split or even win four of the six matchups against its toughest opponents. With Stephen Curry in tow, the Warriors can beat anyone.

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Decent-case scenario: The Golden State Warriors inch for seventh or eighth seed, face the Spurs

Golden State Warriors against San Antonio Spurs, NBA Playoffs
Mar 19, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots over the defense of Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. (22) during the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In accordance to the rules of this year’s play-in tournament, whomever ends up in the seventh or eighth spot would only have to win one game to get the seventh seed. In this scenario, Golden State climbs the standings ever so slightly to No. 7 and set a date with the Spurs. Although the Spurs have surprised pundits this year – especially since many pegged San Antonio to be a lottery team – they are still a fairly young team with many edges to smooth out.

In particular, the Spurs need to work on its defense against the Warriors. Just look at their three matchups thus far this season.

  • Golden State destroyed San Antonio by the score of 121-99 on Jan. 20. Stephen Curry led the squad with a near triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists).
  • Golden State lost by five, 105-100, on Feb. 8 in San Antonio.
  • Golden State beat the Spurs by 23 the following day, with seven players scoring in double figures paced by Curry’s 32 points.

While Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has led San Antonio to a top-10 defensive rating as of writing, they still have no answer for Curry. In the three matchups, he averaged 30 points, 7.3 rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes.

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Worst-case scenario: Golden State settles for the ninth or 10th seed

Golden State Warriors against Memphis Grizzlies, NBA Playoffs
Feb 14, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) dribbles next to Sacramento Kings guard Cory Joseph (9) in the fourth quarter at the Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If the Warriors end the season as either the ninth or 10th seed, they would have to win two games in order to make it to the playoffs, according to this year’s play-in tournament rules. As such, Golden State would face either the ninth or 10th seed – depending on where it lands – and then face the loser of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 matchup. That said, because of how the schedule was devised, Golden State has yet to play New Orleans and have played the Kings, Mavericks and Grizzlies only twice, splitting all the games between the teams.

Nevertheless, the two games the Warriors played against the Kings and Mavericks were either blowouts, close games or a mixture of both. As a result, it’s relatively difficult to determine who the Warriors’ best matchup would be in this situation as both teams can catch fire quickly and end Golden State’s chances in a hurry or go cold. That said, perhaps the most dangerous matchup is against the Grizzlies.

In two games, the Warriors:

  • Won the first game by 13, 116-103, led by Andrew Wiggins’ season-high 40 points.
  • Lost the second game by eight, 111-108, thanks in part to Memphis having six players score in double figures.

It’s important to note that Curry was not available for these matchups. Still, not only are the Grizzlies a well-rounded offensive squad – with six players scoring in double figures – they are also the only team among the four that is playing adequate defense (seventh in defensive rating). With the amount of lengthy wings Memphis can throw at Curry, this could be the sleeper squad that ends the Warriors’ hopes.

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Bottom Line: The Golden State Warriors can do it

In all, the Warriors have a tough but not unnavigable path ahead of them. With just 25 games left remaining on the schedule, Golden State will have to work quickly if it wants to skip the play-in tournament altogether, which would be the ideal scenario for Steve Kerr and the Warriors.

However, not everything goes to plan. And realistically speaking, expect the Warriors to end up with either the seventh or eighth seed. The Warriors are too good of a squad with Curry and Wiggins leading the way to be stuck in ninth or 10th spot. Whatever the case may be, Golden State should hope to face San Antonio and avoid the Grizzlies. Those two teams represent the Warriors’ best and worst hope, respectively, of making it through.

At any rate, the last remaining weeks of the NBA season should provide some much-needed fireworks.