Author: Joe Siegal
The marathon that is the NBA regular season has finally drawn to a close, and this week the main event of the playoffs has begun, bringing with it the most exciting and toughest Western Conference field in years.
The balance of power in the NBA in terms of depth of championship-caliber teams is firmly with the Western Conference at the moment. But the grueling task of beating the other teams in the West could put its eventual winner at a disadvantage in the NBA Finals.
Record-wise, the Golden State Warriors are the league’s best team, and have been for most of the season. Led by guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and bolstered by the tough defense of Draymond Green, Golden State cruised to a 67-win regular season and the first seed. But their road to the NBA Finals will be complicated and far from assured.
A field including potential MVP James Harden and the Houston Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies and their strong frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and the Chris Paul-led Los Angeles Clippers stand in their way, as do their most capable possible opponents, the San Antonio Spurs.
Despite playing possum and lying under the radar for most of the regular season, the Spurs are peaking just as the playoffs tip off in what has become a spring tradition of sorts. Grabbing the West’s sixth seed, the Spurs put themselves in a position to not face off with the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals.
The potential matchup between San Antonio and Golden State would be the most fitting of all the West’s possible outcomes. The newly dominant, young core of the Warriors confronting the well-oiled machine of Greg Popovich’s perennially dominant, seemingly ageless squad would be the most strategically intriguing playoff series in recent memory. If form heading into the playoffs is any indication, a Warriors-Spurs matchup is a likely outcome of where the West will end up.
If that series is to come to fruition, it would be a best-of-seven-game examination of the current pinnacle of pro basketball playing styles. However, it would likely push both teams to their limits before they even reach the overall NBA finals.
And this is where the years-long narrative of the dominant NBA Western Conference could likely be undone. Even though a Warriors-Spurs matchup seems like it could be feasible, the West’s field is strong from the top-down and could wear down its competitors to the point that the West playoffs become a war of attrition, thrusting their exasperated winner into a finals matchup that could prove to be too much after a full regular season and grueling playoffs.
Ultimately, the West playoffs could be so brutally competitive that whichever team emerges as their winner could get absolutely steamrolled by what will likely be a rested, primed Cleveland Cavaliers team out of the East.
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