Warriors favored to win 3rd straight crown.
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The top seeded Golden State Warriors face the first challenge in their quest for an NBA three-peat, which begins on Saturday (Sunday in Manila)against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The back-to-back league champions hope to use home court to their advantage when they open their first round playoff series against Clippers at Oracle Arena. Game 2 is Monday.
“This is what we have been waiting for and we know what is at stake,” forward Klay Thompson said.
There is a sense among the Warriors they need to get the job done before Kevin Durant and Thompson’s pending free agency this summer.
Golden State have a lot going for them — including winning the season series over the Clippers 3-1 and a 27-point blowout in their most recent contest.
The Warriors hardly broke a sweat in that game and it has been similar in the opening round where they have won 16 and lost just two games in the first round in the coach Steve Kerr era.
“It is a good matchup geographically, but it is a hell of an opponent,” said Kerr.
Golden State finished the regular season with the top seed in the Western Conference after finishing with 57 wins and 25 losses.
The Warriors are making their seventh-straight playoff appearance, winning three NBA championships in the last four seasons (2015, 2017, 2018).
They have earned four consecutive NBA finals appearances since their return to the playoffs in 2013.
“I like where we are, I think everybody has their roles in place,” said Durant. “We established those in the last couple of weeks in the season.
“The last month of the season we really put our game into playoff preparation. We were thinking about it every game.
“We were trying to test the limits mentally to see how far we could take it in the regular season so we could get prepared for the playoffs.”
The Warriors are a much different team than the one that lost to the Clippers in the playoffs in 2014, the last time they failed to reach the finals.
Elsewhere, the Toronto Raptors are itching to exorcise some of their playoff demons when their path to a new playoff fate begins with the Orlando Magic.
When you think of the Raptors’ recent playoff history what stands out the most is teams that failed to live up to expectations. They have two first round exits, two ousters in the league quarter-finals and one in the semis in the past five seasons.
The disappointing finishes resulted in coach Dwane Casey getting fired and led to the trade of DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has proven to be an upgrade and new coach Nick Nurse is looking better with a versatile and deeply talented team.
“They are playing very well. They are well coached,” Casey said on Thursday of the Magic. “They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t give up rebounds. It is a good squad we are playing.”
Leonard should be well rested having sat out 22 games in the regular season. Forward Pascal Siakam has emerged as one of the league’s most improved players and centre Marc Gasol was a key acquisition for Toronto from Memphis at the trade deadline.
The Magic head into the playoffs with plenty of confidence after an 11-2 surge to finish the season. They have won 22 games and lost just nine since the beginning of February, which allowed them to vault past the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons.