These four teams would be the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies. All four of these teams have written different storylines for their season–Golden State was supposed to take a step towards the Finals this season, but have regressed considerably. However, the core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala keeps this team as a threat for the Finals. On the other hand, the Phoenix Suns were picked to be the second-worst team in the NBA (behind Philadelphia) by many major media outlets, but have competed admirably all season under the magnificent play of All-Star snub Goran Dragic. Phoenix has continued to compete without Eric Bledsoe, who figures to be back before the playoffs begin.
The Dallas Mavericks are a team filled to capacity with NBA veterans, like Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert and Shawn Marion. The Mavs have a top-tier NBA coach in Rick Carlisle, who has a championship ring on his finger that he won with Dirk Nowitzki. Everyone counted this team out, but championship experience is something that most teams are lacking these days, right Portland and Los Angeles?
Finally, we have the Memphis Grizzlies, who looked to be on the heels of a disappointing season after Marc Gasol went down and missed close to two months. However, they have rebounded and sit just two games back from climbing to the sixth seed.
Yup, there is just a two-game gap between the sixth and ninth seeds in the Western Conference. Check out this chart from Ed Kupfer, which detailed every NBA team’s remaining strength of schedule after the All-Star break (via Deadspin):
As detailed in this chart, the Suns, Warriors and Dallas are in the four, five and six positions for the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. Buckle up everyone, this is sure to be one hell of a finish.
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No. 6: Golden State Warriors
After losing to the Spurs in a heated matchup in the Western Conference Semifinals last year, the Warriors were primed to take the next step. The NBA world fell in love with the sweet shooting stroke of Steph Curry and the offseason acquisition of Andre Iguodala seemed to push the Warriors towards title contention, right? No matter how stacked the Warriors looked on paper with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut there’s a reason all 82 games are played out. Currently, the Warriors find themselves in the sixth spot at 37-24, the same seed they had last season. However, a three or four-game losing streak could push the Warriors out of battle in the West. Isn’t it crazy to imagine a team like the Warriors failing to place in the West with their talented roster?
That talented roster figures to keep them floating above water long enough to make the playoffs. When the Warriors come to mind, it’s typically a mirage of outside shooting and a high offensive output–but the Warriors defense has been outplaying their offense this season. Right now, the Warriors own the ninth-best defense in the NBA, giving up 98.8 PPG, while their tenth-ranked offense is scoring 103.2 PPG. Three-point shooting is still one of the staples of the Warriors offense as they are third in three-pointers made with 562 and fifth in percentage at 38 percent. While Andre Iguodala wasn’t brought in to produce heavily on the offensive side of the floor, his 9.3 PPG is the lowest since his rookie season, which may explain some of the Warriors struggles. The Warriors were also active during the trade deadline, attempting to bolster their roster at the last minute to solidify their seeding. Steve Blake was the biggest addition to the roster and in six games with the Warriors, he is shooting 45 percent from deep, scoring 4.4 PPG.
The Warriors’ remaining schedule leaves them with ample opportunities to keep their sixth seed in the West. Golden State has arguably the most talented roster out of any team discussed in this piece, but they will have to take care of business if they don’t want to be watching the playoffs from a couch. Golden State will face several of the teams they are battling for playoff position within the last quarter of the season, playing Dallas twice and Phoenix and Memphis once. Besides those matchups, the Warriors have a tough end to the season. Golden State will play seven of their remaining 22 games against playoff contenders such as the Pacers, Hawks, Clippers and two matchups with the Spurs and Blazers, respectively. No team fighting for playoff position wants to look at their schedule and realize they still have to play the Spurs and Blazers two times each, but the Warriors have to face the music.
In order to grab a playoff seed in the West, the Warriors will be tested. The Splash Brothers are only shooting 41.5 percent from deep this season, most notably Steph Curry’s efficiency from deep has dropped from 45 percent to 42 percent. If the Warriors catch flames and knock off some of the top teams in the West, they will be in prime position to hold the sixth seed and earn a date with the Blazers, Clippers or Rockets in the first round. Wow. Just imagine one of those FIRST-round matchups. Go win some games, Dub Nation!