The Golden State Warriors have already secured the top seed throughout the playoffs, but their first round opponent is unknown right now, as the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets each have one more game to play in order to determine who will earn the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The first round of the NBA Playoffs are set to start on Saturday, April 16th. The Warriors have one more regular season game before the playoffs start, but looking ahead to the first round, should the Warriors have a preference on who they face, the Jazz or the Rockets?
Both teams play with very different styles. The Jazz play with a slower pace, they have a formidable front line, and they play tough defense, especially on the boards. The Rockets play a more similar style to the Warriors, as they play more up-tempo and shoot a high amount of three-pointers. The Warriors could approach their first-round playoff series differently depending on which team they face, but they also are excellent at forcing another team to play according to their own game plan and forcing their opponent to be the team that needs to make adjustments.
In all honesty, the Warriors could sweep their first round playoff series, regardless of who they face. However, the competitiveness and entertainment value could vary depending on if they face the Jazz or the Rockets.
Before examining what each playoff series could look like, let’s examine the regular season matchups between the Warriors and the two teams. Let’s start with the Rockets.
The Warriors went 3-0 against the Rockets this season. Most of the games were dominated by the Warriors, as the Rockets fell victim to trying to beat the Warriors at their own game of pushing the tempo, shooting threes, and playing small. There was only one close game, and the Warriors played this game without Stephen Curry. The Warriors ultimately won that game on December 31st, 114-110 behind 38 points from Klay Thompson.
For the season, the Rockets have a 40-41 record. They rank second in the NBA for three-pointers attempted per game with 30.8, but they rank 19th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 34.7 percent. They also rank fourth in the NBA with 106.4 points per game, but they rank 14th in the NBA in field goal percentage at 45.1 percent.
Defensively this season, the Rockets rank 20th in the NBA for opponent’s field goal percentage at 46 percent, and they rank 21st in the NBA for allowing their opponents to shoot 36.2 percent from three-point range. They average just 42.9 rebounds per game (20th in the NBA), and they allow their opponents to grab 44.6 rebounds per game (also 20th in the NBA).
The Warriors went 4-0 against the Jazz this season, but two of those games were very close and came down to the last few possessions. The Warriors barely escaped Utah with a win in their first matchup on November 30th, but they ultimately won 106-103. In their last matchup of the season, the Warriors, yet again, struggled in Utah but ultimately won 103-96 in overtime.
For the season, the Jazz also have a 40-41 record. They average 97.7 points per game (28th in the NBA), and they shoot 44.8 percent from the field (18th in NBA). They shoot 35.6 percent from three-point range (12th in NBA), but they only attempt only 23.8 threes per game (15th in NBA).
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Defensively this season, the Jazz allow opponents to shoot 44.5 percent (13th in NBA) overall and 35.8 percent from three-point range (20th in NBA). They do lead the NBA though in allowing opponents to only grab 40 rebounds per game, and they average 43.3 rebounds per game (17th in NBA).
The most interesting statistic overall for all three teams is pace, which measures the number of possessions a team uses per game. The Warriors rank second in the NBA with 101.6, Houston comes in at seventh in the NBA with 100, and Utah ranked dead last in the NBA with 93.2.
The pace statistic proves why the Jazz would be a tougher matchup for the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs and why it would, arguably, be a more entertaining series. The Jazz have played the Warriors tough all season long, and their games have been much more competitive. Despite losing all four games to the Warriors this year, the Jazz, at times, were able to force the Warriors to play at their slow pace. They stick to what they’re good at, and they try to take advantage of their height in the frontcourt and their rebounding ability.
Although it would be fun to see two up-tempo teams like the Warriors and the Rockets face off in the playoffs, the Warriors could consistently build big leads in most of the games, since not many teams can beat the Warriors while playing up-tempo. The Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in last year’s playoffs, and given the fact that the Warriors are even better this year and the Rockets are not as strong of a team this year, the Warriors could easily sweep that first round series.
If the Warriors face the Jazz in the first round, they could still potentially sweep them, but it would be a much tougher series, in a good way. It would be a good test for the Warriors and would build mental toughness, which is invaluable after a tiring season and during the playoffs.
Some fans might believe a faster pace overall would be more entertaining, but a series against the Jazz would be actually more entertaining overall and would provide closer games and tighter competition. That’s what fans should want to see in the playoffs.
The first step in winning another title for the Warriors is facing the Rockets or the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. The Jazz pose a bigger threat, but a series against a team like the Jazz could benefit the Warriors more in the long run than a series against the Rockets would.