This Wednesday marks the end of the 2015-16 NBA season with essentially all the remaining playoff spots filled up. With the playoffs drawing near, the main storyline is pretty straightforward, who will beat the Golden State Warriors?
After a 92–86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Warriors have tied the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the most wins in a single season, 72. The only thing standing between the Warriors and history is a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team.
The Warriors have been great statistically all across the board. As of Sunday, the Warriors lead the league in points per game, points per 100 possessions, field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage. Golden State finished second in pace, a stat that tracks how many possessions a team has per game. Only the Sacramento Kings play at a faster pace than the Warriors. Point guard Stephen Curry led the Warriors throughout the season, averaging nearly 30 points per game, receiving help from fellow splash brother Klay Thompson, triple double machine Draymond Green and one of the deepest benches in the league.
Of course in a league where more than half of the 30 teams make the postseason, this year’s playoff field feels especially weak. Even 50 win teams, and there are not that many of them, feel like cannon fodder to top half of the league.
As the number one seed out west, the Warriors will likely face some combination of the Grizzlies, the Dallas Mavericks, the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets, who sit just a game out of the eight spot in the west. All four clubs have talented rosters, and do certain things very well, but are quite flawed. Dallas is missing two starters in point guard Deron Williams and small forward Chandler Parsons and run one of the slowest-paced offenses in the association. Injuries have slowed the Grizzlies down as well, and only average 99.2 points per game, and their defense is not as good as it has been in years past. The upstart Jazz and the surprising Portland Trailblazers appear to be long shots to get to the finals as well.
Even teams that most fans would consider to be contenders may be too flawed to last with the Warriors in a seven game series. The Oklahoma City Thunder are only 13th in opponents points per game, 17th in points allowed per 100 possessions and appear to have few offensive options beyond superstars Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook. The Los Angeles Clippers have a very talented starting lineup, led by point guard Chris Paul and the returning Blake Griffin, but lack the bench depth of the Warriors.
That’s not even including the Eastern Conference, which seems to be seven teams serving as cannon fodder for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whoever represents the East in the finals will likely be easy pickings for the Warriors or someone else.
Could that someone else be the number two seed in the west, the Spurs? Led by emerging superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs finished a close second to the Warriors in overall, and three point field goal percentage. The Spurs finished with the lowest points allowed per game, and have shown to have enough capable bench players to hang with the Warriors. However, even the Spurs have struggled against the Warriors, losing the season series 3–1, with two of the losses being by at least 10 points.
There are only a few compelling teams in this year’s playoff field, but nothing is preordained. The Warriors could be upset by one of the teams mentioned, or one of the ones not, like the 50 win Toronto Raptors or the Boston Celtics, who run just as fast a pace as the Warriors. Until then, seeing is believing.