Steinmetz: Playoffs still in reach despite losing Davis

When people are asked what they’d like to hear first, the good news or the bad news, most tend to request the bad news up front.

So here goes.

It seems obvious the Warriors are going to take a step back in 2008-09. Without point guard Baron Davis, the team’s inspirational leader and internal motor, it is wholly unrealistic to think the Warriors are going to be able to match last season’s 48-win mark.

Here’s the good news: They still have a shot to make the playoffs.

Despite all the hemming and hawing about how brutal the Western Conference is and about how you’re going to need 50 wins to make it into the postseason, the fact of the matter is those sentiments aren’t based in reality.

Just because you needed 50 wins to make the Western Conference playoffs last season doesn’t mean you’re going to need 50 wins to make it next year. Yes, it took Denver winning 50 games last season to earn the eighth and final playoff spot ahead of the Warriors.

But that was an anomaly.

First of all, the Eastern Conference is getting better. It was better last season than it was two seasons before and it will be better this upcoming year than last. The top teams — Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Orlando and Philadelphia — aren’t bad at all. The middle-of-the-pack teams are OK.

And the worst teams in the East aren’t any worse than the worst teams in the West.

Put it this way: The days of rolling up a 23-7 record against the East are over.

As far as the Western Conference is concerned, while it still may be better than the East, the reality is that the bottom feeders in the West were horrible.

Memphis, Seattle, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Clippers each won fewer than 23 games a season ago. Any self-respecting Western Conference team should have gone 12-4 against that foursome.

The Nuggets went 14-2 against those four teams. You think that had a little something to do with them getting to 50 wins? The Clippers and Timberwolves are likely to be better. Memphis can’t get much worse.

The points are these: The bad teams in the West are going to be better; the quality in the East has been upgraded and there remains a certain amount of parity among the top 10 or so teams in the West, which should prevent extremes in records from the best to the worst.

What that all adds up to is a back-to-normal season for the NBA. It’s not going to take 50 wins next year to make the postseason — 45 will likely do it.

And the Warriors might just be good enough to win 45 games.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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