While the Warriors have already secured the No. 1 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, the No. 8 seed — and Golden State’s first round opponent — has yet to be decided.
The race for the last ticket to the playoffs in the west has boiled down to two teams: the Portland Trail Blazers (39-40) and the Denver Nuggets (38-41). Currently, Portland holds a one game lead over Denver, and some of the Warriors want it to stay that way.
Asked which team he’d prefer to see in Round 1, back-up guard Shaun Livingston decided not to respond with the cliche “we play who is in front of us”:
“Probably Portland, just because nobody wants to play in the mountains.”
He continued, to the amusement of media in attendance at Saturday’s practice:
“I’m not a high elevation kind of guy.”
But his words hold water as the Pepsi Center — the Nuggets’ home court — is located in Denver, which sits at a lung-blistering 5,280 feet above sea-level.
This reality of geography has turned into a home court advantage for Denver and has, in part, contributed to 22 home victories this season for the Nuggets — including a 132-110 win over Golden State on Feb. 13.
Over the past three seasons, the Warriors have lost three of the 10 regular season games played at the “Mile-High City.”
Not to mention, in two of the three losses the Dubs have shot below their season averages in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage. While none of the Warriors, or any NBA player for that matter, would ever place such blame, some correlation can be made between the poor shooting and high altitude.
Other Warriors players echoed sentiment similar to that of the 31-year-old, including starting center Zaza Pachulia. who said that the difficulties of playing in high altitude is the lone reasoning for his Portland preference:
“One thing: it’s hard to play in that altitude. That’s the one thing.”
The good news for guys like Livingston and Pachulia is, the Warriors could potentially avoid Denver all together and play Portland in the first round instead. This would be an ideal situation for Golden State, as they have beaten the Trail Blazers by an average margin of 19.5 points in the 2016-17 season.
In addition to Portland having a one game lead over Denver, the Trail Blazers also have a slightly easier schedule on their hands.
Portland will face the Utah Jazz on Saturday, the San Antonio Spurs on Monday and the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. Each at home.
The toughest game would be against San Antonio, however with the No. 2 seed already set in stone for the Spurs, it’s possible (and likely) that the head coach Gregg Popovich would rest key players in the second to last game of the season to prepare for a playoff push.
With a one game lead in tow, and the head-to-head 3-1 advantage, the Blazers could go 2-1 to clinch the eighth seed no matter what the Nuggets are able to do.
Denver will play the Oklahoma City Thunder at home on Sunday before traveling to Dallas for a showdown with the Mavericks on Tuesday. They close the season against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. With their “tragic number” at two, even if Portland were lose out the Nuggets would need to go no worse than 2-1, meaning at least one win against a tough Thunder team.
Considering that Oklahoma City could potentially fall to the No. 7 seed with a combination of team losses and Memphis Grizzlies wins, both games could be of great importance to MVP front-runner Russell Westbrook and his Thunder. This would make Denver’s playoff hopes much more difficult.
Regardless of the outcome for the No. 8 seed, Golden State would be the heavy favorite in any first round match-up, as they are 3-1 and 4-0 against Denver and Portland respectively this season.
Given their choice, though, according to a pair of the team’s vets, Portland is who they would prefer.