The Golden State Warriors have lost three games this year, including one to the lottery-bound Los Angeles Lakers, so they’re not unbeatable. It’s hard to see them losing many games, let alone a playoff series, though. The same was said last season, and the Cleveland Cavaliers bested them in seven games.
With Kevin Durant now on the team, the task becomes larger for would-be foes. And realistically, there are only three teams that can beat the Warriors–and they will all be underdogs when the time comes. After Klay Thompson posted 60 points in just 29 minutes in a 142-106 win over the Indiana Pacers, the task seems like mission impossible.
Here’s a look at how the three teams teams can beat them:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs have two things going for them. One, they beat the Warriors in the Finals last year, proving it can be done (courtesy of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving), and two, the Warriors’ bench is far less spectacular than it was the past two seasons. The latter is the most critical part here. Tyronn Lue will not need to worry about his backups getting torched by the likes of Patrick McCaw, Kevon Looney, David West, or JaVale McGee. Ian Clark and Shaun Livingston are the two mainstays, outside of sixth man candidate Andre Iguodala. That means the match-up will pit star against star. The secret to beating the Warriors–as the Cavs know–is chase them off the three-point line and force them into a physical game. Only Draymond Green really invites physicality. Stephen Curry, Zaza Pachulia, Durant, and Thompson want to play a finesse style. Their other Western foes know this as well.
2. Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers have a woeful track record in the playoffs, but man-for-man the roster is best equipped to take down Golden State. The Clippers’ ability to clog the paint–on both ends–with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin is a huge asset, and one in which the Warriors have little means to defend. If Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute can chase Curry and Durant off the three-point line and funnel them into Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers might stand a chance.
3. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs blasted the Warriors on opening night, but what happens in October and what happens in May are two different stories. Kawhi Leonard is every bit the all-around player that the Warriors will throw into the ring, but the Spurs’ age and depleted bench will likely be their downfall. Gregg Popovich’s squad does defend more capably than Golden State, and LaMarcus Aldridge provides a mismatch for Steve Kerr’s style. It’s a long shot, but still a shot.
The Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, and Portland Trail Blazers all should be able to challenge the Warriors, but it’s unlikely. Both Memphis and Utah are never healthy enough to pose a serious threat, and Portland’s defense has gone missing. For a game in the regular season, however, these match-ups might be interesting.