While the Golden State Warriors were taking care of business against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, most of the rest of the West’s playoff contenders were duking it out among themselves.
Russell Westbrook threw down a dagger of a dunk to lead the Thunder to a win over the Rockets, Marc Gasol simultaneously turned into Conor McGregor and Stephen Curry, and the Spurs held on against the Sacramento Kings. (Okay, not every game featured playoff contenders, but you get the idea.)
Even at this early juncture, Wednesday was a nice glimpse at what the Western Conference has to offer this year — 14 teams vying for the opportunity to knock off the Warriors.
With that in mind, we’re ranking the biggest threats to Golden State from within its own conference, from 14 to one. Of course, half those teams won’t make the playoffs, depriving them of a chance to eliminate the Warriors in the postseason. So for every franchise, we laid out the best-case scenario in either a game or series (whichever made more sense) against Golden State, plus the most realistic outcome of said contest.
One more note before we get started: Some might take offense to the whole notion of this article. Who says the Warriors are automatically the favorites in the West with the Clippers off to a hot start (prior to that Wednesday night defeat)?
We do, for one — and so does Las Vegas, which continues to have the Warriors as overwhelming betting favorites to make the NBA Finals, if not win the title. Golden State is starting to fire on all cylinders on offense, and the defense should come around in time. Make no mistake: The Warriors are still the team to beat in the West. Sorry, Clippers fans.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: We don't have to wonder about this one; Phoenix basically played its very best possible game against Golden State last week and still managed to lose by double-digits.
Maybe Devin Booker could go off for 60 points and catch the Warriors sleeping, but that's about all the Suns could hope for.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Golden State is actually focused and destroys Phoenix by 40 points.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY SporIsaiah J. Downing
New Orleans Pelicans
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Anthony Davis turns into Wilt Chamberlain, going off for 100 points. The Pelicans still lose, 142-116.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Davis exits the game in the second quarter with an odd ailment as Golden State steamrolls New Orleans, causing Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to question why he ever left the Warriors bench.
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Harrison Barnes channels years of neglect and scapegoating into the NBA's greatest revenge game, literally breaking Stephen Curry's ankles with a crossover before dunking in Kevin Durant's face.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Golden State knows Barnes better than he knows himself, and the Warriors use that intimate knowledge to shut down their former teammate. Dirk Nowitzki makes a valiant effort to carry his team, but as has been the case for years now, the Big German can't do it alone.
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: The Nuggets have the size in the frontcourt to give the Warriors a real problem in a single game. In fact, it wouldn't be that surprising if Denver managed to beat Golden State on an off-night from the Warriors.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: The Nuggets can't keep up from 3-point land, and coach Mike Malone struggles to figure out how best to deploy his talented big men. Of course, it's not really a big deal, since no one is watching this game, anyway.
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: DeMarcus Cousins exploits Golden State's lack of a real center while the Warriors go ice-cold from deep, and the Kings steal a win.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Cousins gets ejected with two technical fouls and flips Vlade Divac the bird on his way off the court.
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsEd Szczepanski
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Karl-Anthony Towns establishes that the future of the NBA belongs to him, swatting a potential Stephen Curry game-winning 3 at the buzzer and screaming in Kevin Durant's face while Andrew Wiggins hounds Klay Thompson for 36 minutes.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Tom Thibodeau turns a permanent and entirely new shade of red from all of his screaming as Minnesota's defense repeatedly breaks down.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: We're finally getting into potential playoff contenders with Memphis, which is fun.
In a perfect world, the Grizzlies claim a playoff berth somewhere within the third through sixth seeds then meet the Warriors in the second round. Marc Gasol continues to hit game-winning 3s before strutting like Conor McGregor as Memphis takes the series to six games before bowing out.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: The Grizzlies back into the postseason as the eighth seed and get swept by Golden State in a hard-fought series.
Los Angeles Lakers
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: The Lakers earn the eighth seed in the West and face the Warriors in the first round. Luke Walton uses all of the corporate knowledge he gained with Golden State to shatter the Warriors' fragile chemistry, getting into Draymond Green's head and causing the Golden State forward to punch Kevin Durant in the groin. Los Angeles takes a game off of the Warriors but no more.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Golden State seeks revenge for the Lakers' early-season win, making Walton look more like Byron Scott as a coach.
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Portland Trail Blazers
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Damian Lillard continues his one-man quest to prove he's superior to Stephen Curry, who once again falters in Portland as the Blazers force a Game 7 in the playoffs.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Curry's healthy, Evan Turner hijacks the Blazers, and Golden State cruises to a gentlemen's sweep (aka a 4-1 series win in which you drop the fourth game just to be a good sport) like they should have done last season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Russell Westbrook makes a deal with Satan to give him the power to smite Kevin Durant for abandoning the Thunder. He averages 50 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists per game, and Oklahoma City shocks the Warriors by eliminating them in the postseason.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Westbrook has two absolutely spectacular games, but the Thunder win only one as Durant throws shade at Westbrook and OKC in his postgame interviews.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
San Antonio Spurs
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Tim Duncan was dragging the Spurs down with his ancient-ness last season, which meant San Antonio couldn't keep up with the Warriors. With Duncan gone, the younger Spurs slow Golden State's transition game, protect the 3-point line ... and still come up short in seven games.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: San Antonio's defensive problems in the middle torpedo any chance of the Spurs hanging with the Warriors, and Gregg Popovich ends up having to answer some hard questions about his roster this offseason.
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: James Harden's Rockets completely ignore defense and simply try to outscore the Warriors over the course of seven games. They fail, but the resulting ratings bonanza vaults the NBA to the top of the American sports rankings.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Houston tries to defend Golden State and still fails miserably. Harden is named 2016-17 MVP, motivating Durant and Curry — who both feel snubbed — to bury the Rockets in a flurry of highlights.
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Surprise, surprise! When this season is all said and done, we're going to be talking about the Jazz as one of the scariest teams in the West.
Rudy Gobert is the perfect rim-protecting, pick-and-roll-dominating center that a team needs to match up with the Warriors. George Hill is an outstanding point guard who can limit Steph Curry. Golden State doesn't have an answer for a healthy Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson will carry the scoring load.
If Utah and Golden State meet in the playoffs, the series is going seven games — and in a Game 7, anything can happen.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: The Jazz face the Warriors in the second round and put the fear of God into Golden State over a full seven-game series. That accumulated fatigue eventually sinks the Warriors.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY SportsJoe Camporeale
Los Angeles Clippers
Best-case scenario against the Warriors: Los Angeles claims the No. 1 seed in the West, earning homecourt advantage over Golden State in the conference finals. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers lean on their years of experience as a group to beat the Warriors 4-3 and earn their first trip to the NBA Finals.
Most realistic outcome against the Warriors: Game 7. Oracle Arena. Just seconds remaining — and the Clippers make the most boneheaded play of the CP3 era, costing themselves a chance at a championship and causing a million NBA fans who question Paul's abilities in the clutch to scream "I TOLD YOU SO!" as loudly as they possibly can.