Ever since Kevin Durant went down with a sprained MCL on February 28 (thanks a lot Marcin Gortat) the Warriors have experienced something they haven’t in a long time save for the final three games of the 2016 NBA Finals (sorry couldn’t help myself), a stretch of losing basketball.
They have gone 2-4 in their last six games with Durant sidelined (including the Wizards game, he got hurt two minutes in) including losses to two under .500 teams in the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night.
Because of this brief slide, they find themselves only one and a half games ahead of the always lurking San Antonio Spurs for the No. 1 seed in the western conference.
While acquiring the No. 1 seed is always a worthwhile goal because of the home court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs at least, it is of special importance to the Warriors in 2017 for a number of reasons.
Here is option 1 for a path to the 2017 NBA Finals for the Warriors:
Jazz or Clippers
Spurs or Rockets (with home court)
Thunder or Grizzlies
Spurs (without home court)
Option 2 would project to be considerably tougher for a Warriors team either without (still a real possibility) or trying to re-integrate Kevin Durant on the fly instead of a match-up with an inexperienced, under .500 Nuggets, they would be entering the lion’s den against a rabid and highly motivated Oklahoma City Thunder team and Russell Westbrook with the best home court advantage in the NBA this season. This would be an emotionally draining, physical (especially with Taj Gibson involved now), and taxing series for a Warriors team either without their best player or trying to work him back into the fold in the worst place possible for him with all of the heightened emotions. If not the Thunder, they have to match-up with a battle-tested, veteran savvy Grizzlies team that was the only team to beat them twice when healthy this season. The Grizzlies are the most physical team in the NBA and trying to stop Marc Gasol and Z-Bo for a team with little front court depth would be difficult, not to mention Tony Allen to pester Durant or Thompson and Conley to guard Curry.
Then after getting bruised and battered, the Warriors would have to deal with a Rockets team at hyper-speed who would keep the pace high and play a completely different style of basketball than the team they just faced. Also, a highly motivated James Harden to avenge the horrors of his last match-ups and playoff failures against the Warriors.
Here comes the worst part, if they manage to survive the first two legs of the western conference gauntlet, a more-rested Spurs team awaits them with home court advantage and the best coach, wing defender and highest I.Q. collection of players in the league.
Being able to integrate Durant slowly and peacefully against an overmatched Nuggets team that is just happy to be there, followed by a potential second round match-up with a Clippers team they have been abusing and have had a mental advantage over for years or an inexperienced Jazz team (although a bad match up) followed by a matchup with the Spurs more than likely with home court advantage is by far the less prickly path for a Warriors team trying to return to the NBA Finals for the third year in a row.
A few of the biggest reasons the Warriors lost the 2016 NBA Finals (besides LeBron and Kyrie Irving’s brilliance and Draymond Green’s affinity for abusing groins) were that they simply ran out of gas after an exhausting series with the Thunder and their quest for 73 wins, and a slightly hobbled Steph Curry trying to recover from an MCL injury, much like Durant this season.
You can bet the Warriors will do whatever they can to keep the No. 1 seed.