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Jeff Van Gundy believes two teams can challenge Warriors in the postseason

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA regular season is officially over and now begins the two-month stretch that the Warriors have been preparing for all season long. The playoffs are here as the Warriors are set to take on the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night to kick off their quest for a three-peat.

Friday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy joined Murph & Mac to discuss the Warriors, the NBA postseason, and which teams can give the Warriors trouble throughout the playoffs.

This season for the Warriors and their fans has been nothing short of eventful. A drama filled season has had the team under the league’s microscope from the beginning. Despite all of the success in the regular season, it may have felt like a disappointment to some.

“And that’s unfortunate”, Van Gundy says. “You have a 57-win team and you feel like it’s (regular season) a prison sentence. It’s interesting how expectations change everything and how attitudes of the players and team influence how the fans feel about it as well. It’s been an interesting year for them, but it’s been a successful one for them too.”

In the NBA Playoffs, just like any sport, you should never overlook a team in the postseason. Chances are, the Warriors will handle the Clippers with ease, but will very quickly face some very formidable Western Conference opponents.

“I think the Warriors have a high-level of respect for what the Clippers did this year. Unless anything drastic happens like a major injury, they’ll win the first round, and they’ll win the Western Conference Finals if they get there. But getting through Houston or Utah will be a challenge. Those teams to me are the second and third-best teams in the Western Conference and can give the Warriors the biggest challenge until the finals.”

Because the Warriors have had so much drama surrounding players such as Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Jordan Bell as well as others, some may wonder if any of those distractions might spill into the postseason.

“I think it’s mostly a clean slate. I think your habits carry over from the regular season into the playoffs. I think most players, even the most selfish ones who are into themselves and their old dilemmas, once you get to the playoffs you’re going to be locked into that next game. Because in the playoffs, you can only go on a four-game losing streak, that’s as bad as it can get. It’s not the drudgery that the regular season can sometimes be for players, so I expect the Warriors to play at a really high level.”

Throughout the regular season, it became clear that the Warriors were not playing their best from time to time. Distractions and off the court issues may have contributed towards the team not enjoying the regular season as much as they should have.

“Maybe they can find some enjoyment along the way too because they just don’t seem as happy playing basketball as they once did.”

The first round will feature a Warriors vs Clippers matchup. This matchup is one that most expect to be very one-sided, but could the Clippers give the Warriors trouble early on?

“Well, I think the Clippers as a team present problems in that they play hard. Their strength is their bench; Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, and Lou Williams can score on anybody if it’s a close game, he can get on rolls like the very best players in the NBA. I will suspect that the Warriors (if they’re locked in) will win the series in a sweep or 4-1 at the worst and move on to round two, which to me will be a big challenge.”

Last season the Warriors just barely beat out the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. Beating Houston in Game 7, the Warriors were nearly taken down by James Harden and the Rockets, and there’s a chance that could happen again.

“I think if you look back at last year, they knew that a lot of things had to conspire for them to end up losing to the Warriors. One, the Warriors are really good, that’s number one. They also had to miss, what? Twenty-seven straight three’s in a deciding game? And Chris Paul being hurt. I think in their mind, if they’re healthy, they have a great chance.”

There are some key differences between last year’s matchup and a potential Warriors-Rockets matchup this year. For one, they have different rosters. The Warriors obviously have DeMarcus Cousins. Most importantly, the Warriors are the ones with home-court advantage, instead of Houston.

“This year they don’t have home court like they did last year, which I think is critical. I think the Warriors in their (Rockets) minds, and in mine, aren’t as good as they were last year. But, with that being said, it will still take a fantastic two-week performance by any team if they were to beat a Warriors team, and this Warriors team in a series. It’s one thing to make a series close, it’s another to close out a great team.”

Before the Warriors even think about who they will play in the second round, they have to focus on taking down the Clippers first. Throughout a season of ups and downs and plenty of drama, the Warriors look to three-peat as champions despite a stressful season.

Listen to the full interview here:


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