Even after winning a nail-biter over the Utah Jazz, the Western Conference’s top team, the Golden State Warriors remain on the brink of a highly difficult draw in the postseason play-in tournament.
The volatile nature of this COVID-abbreviated regular season has proven a character test for the Warriors, especially absent All-Star guard Klay Thompson. But tougher tests with less margin for error remain on the horizon before Golden State can earn a spot in a first-round series against one of the Western Conference’s two most accomplished teams.
Warriors veteran Draymond Green spoke to those challenges during a press conference following the team’s victory over the Jazz on Monday, May 10, conjuring the flippant and defiantly confident style that has come to define one of the game’s biggest personalities.
“I don’t give a damn about the play-in tournament,” Green told reporters. “It is what it is.”
Clearly, the Warriors defensive specialist and emotional leader is not concerned about the daunting task his team could face if they slip up just slightly before the regular season concludes. But, perhaps he should be.
Golden State’s Postseason Prospects Could Change Significantly in the Final Week of the Season
The Warriors will be a part of the play-in tournament, that much is set in stone. But where they’ll be slotted is still very much up in the air.
At 36-33, Golden State currently occupies the 8th seed in the Western Conference. If the play-in games started today, the Warriors would face LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers for an automatic berth in a playoff series with the 7th position.
In this scenario, Golden State could win one game and move on. If they lost, the Warriors would then face the loser of the 9th seed vs. 10th seed matchup in a one-off for the final playoff spot in the West. In other words, if the Warriors finish the regular season as the No. 8 seed, they would have two chances to win one game. That’s the best case scenario.
Dropping to the 9th seed before the end of the season could still potentially land the Warriors in an eventual win-or-go-home standoff with the Lakers, assuming the Warriors won their first play-in game and the Lakers lost. The difference is Golden State would have to win back-to-back play-in games, no matter what, to earn their spot in the first round.
The Warriors Face a Tough Road to Securing the 8th Seed
If the Warriors slip to the 9th position, their odds of making it to a first-round series will slip substantially along with them. And slip they very well may.
Golden State has won three straight games and is playing well, but the schedule does the team no favors. The Warriors’ final three matchups of the season are against the Phoenix Suns, seeded second in the West as of Monday; the New Orleans Pelicans, one spot out of the play-in tournament and fighting frantically to get in; and the Memphis Grizzlies, the 9th seed as of Monday, sitting just a half game behind the Warriors. The silver lining — all three contests are Golden State home games.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have a favorable schedule to wind down the year. They face the Dallas Mavericks, currently occupying the No. 5 spot in the West, at home on Tuesday night. The Grizzlies then get back-to-back home games against the Sacramento Kings before finishing the year at Golden State.
The Warriors and the Grizzlies have split the season series 1-1 thus far, meaning the final matchup of the season would also determine the tie-break. Memphis currently holds the upper hand. If the Grizzlies win out, they will rob Golden State of the 8th seed.
Memphis could also go 3-1 over their final four games, and as long as one of the three victories was against the Warriors, it wouldn’t matter how Golden State fairs in its other contests — the Grizzlies would still supplant them for the 8th position.
Green and several of his Warriors teammates are intimately familiar with high-pressure NBA matchups, both in the regular season and the playoffs. Considering that, it is fair to believe that perhaps Green really isn’t all that concerned about navigating the play-in format.
But the odds dictate that Green and company should care very much about what position they ultimately find themselves when the play-in tournament starts, because the implications could be monumental, and no one beats the odds forever.