After a dramatic end to the 2018-2019 NBA regular season, the Playoffs are here. The 82-game grind is over, and the top half of the NBA will have the chance to fight for a title. That’s if you think any other team actually stands a chance against a Golden State Warriors team that features an Olympic-caliber starting five.
Everyone talks about a couple of teams in the Eastern Conference that would have a chance to knock the Warriors off for the NBA Title, but will Golden State even make it out of the West? Who has the best chance to dethrone the Warriors before they even get out of their own conference?
The popular choice: No. 4 Houston Rockets
Everyone, including national sports personalities, still believe the Houston Rockets have to best chance to defeat the Warriors in a seven-game series solely off last year’s performance where they pushed the Warriors to the limit in the Western Conference Finals. It’s a safe bet that they would have done it if Chris Paul wouldn’t have gotten injured mid-series.
That was last year, though. The Rockets closed this regular season out strong, going (20-5) in the last 25 games, ascending to the fourth position in the West after being out of the playoff hunt in January. With that being said, the Rockets are the popular choice to repeat what they did last season, but without that caliber of defense on a consistent basis, it’ll be a much harder feat for them.
The Logical choice: No. 2 Denver Nuggets
The most logical choice are the Denver Nuggets, who have remained on Golden State’s tail for the entire season. Denver overtook the Warriors as No. 1 in the conference for a short period of time but due to some late-season struggles, settled into the second spot.
It’s fair, Denver has been the second-best team in the conference for the entire season, beating up on any and everybody on a consistent basis with their (54-28) record. The only question mark is their inexperience in the playoffs versus a Warriors team that has been through this plenty of times.
It showed in the regular season. Denver has been proud (as they should be) about their positioning in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Golden State cruised through the season, securing the top-seed by default. The Warriors may have played their best basketball on 10 occasions this season, all of which coming in blowouts.
Plus, other than their Oct. 21 matchup where the Nuggets defeated the Warriors 100-98, they’ve dropped three straight to the defending champions with an average margin of 20.6 points.
The Sleeper: Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite the stretch between Feb. 14 and March 25 where the Thunder dropped 12 out of 18 games, they’ve been pretty dominant this season. Don’t let their sixth seed deceive you because, without that extensive slump towards the end of the season, where they plummeted down the Western Conference standings, they’d be the second or third team in the conference and this wouldn’t be a sleeper pick.
The thing about the Thunder is their inconsistency. That’s what got them in this position, and it could be what kills them too. However, when Russell Westbrook plays his best brand of basketball and Paul George plays at-or-near an MVP level as he did in January and February, the Thunder are near unbeatable.
Golden State did beat the Thunder two out of three times, but the one time the Thunder did top them, it was by 28 points, but Kevin Durant did not play. With the Thunder, they are so inconsistent that often time logic doesn’t matter much. When you think they’re going to step up and take care of business, they underperform but when you lose hope in them, they’ll surprise you and put together a big game. You have to take it game-by-game with the Thunder.
This writer believes in Golden State’s last season as a complete unit, they’re going to give it all they have. But the drama they’ve had to endure this season, paired with their multiple injuries throughout has thrown them out of rhythm. This team does have a chemistry problem. One of these three teams has a legitimate chance to knock them off in the Western Conference Finals. If Houston can keep their defense consistent, like they did last season, they will make things interesting in the Western Conference Semifinals. Lastly, if Oklahoma City can play a consistent brand of basketball and show the level of effort they showed through 55 games, they can spoil the Western Conference Finals for the Golden State Warriors.