Steinmetz: Three (new) teams Warriors must worry about

Monday’s stick-in-the-craw loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves notwithstanding, the Warriors are on pace to win close to 50 games. That’s right, 50 wins.

Yet a quick look at the standings reveals the Warriors are just a half-game in front of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

Coming into the season, knowledgeable Warriors fans knew which two teams to root against: The Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets.

After all, the Lakers won the same amount of games as the Warriors a season ago (42), and the Hornets stayed in the race all season despite an inordinate amount of injuries.

Those two teams were the logical obstacles in the way of a second consecutive playoff appearance by your home team, but it’s time for Warriors fans to refocus their negative energy.

With the Lakers currently holding down the third spot in the conference, and the Hornets the second, and neither team showing signs of letting up, the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets are now the Warriors’ problems.

Yes, the Jazz right now are on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go, but that’s likely going to change. The Jazz have a history of starting fast, going into a lull and finishing strong. They’re in the lull right now.

The Blazers have revealed themselves to be the real deal. No one expected the Blazers to make the playoffs, let alone even be in the playoff picture. But they are. And that’s not good news for the Warriors.

The Blazers are young, hungry and, most important of all, good. They’ve drilled the Warriors twice this season and it looks as if they could have staying power. They are inexperienced, however, and Warriors fans need that youth to sabotage Portland’s season in March and April.

The Nuggets, though, are one team to really keep an eye on. They are barely hanging on and would seem to be one of the more vulnerable teams in the conference. Kenyon Martin is frequently hurt, and when he isn’t, he doesn’t help much. Nene just had a malignant tumor removed and he may not return this season.

Carmelo Anthony suffered a sprained ankle Monday. The Nuggets’ schedule has been home-loaded with sub-.500 teams and their road ahead will get more difficult, to be sure.

Before the season, Denver figured to be a notch above the Warriors. Now, the Nuggets could be a notch below — and the Warriors need them to be.

As for the Rockets, they’ve been without Tracy McGrady for a chunk of the season, but remain in the mix. The Rockets were thinking home court in the first round; now they just want to get in.

That Rockets slippage directly affects the Warriors, and not in a beneficial way.

Just for kicks, if the Warriors were in the East, they’d be the fourth seed and have the home court. They’d be entrenched in the playoff picture and wouldn’t have to worry about any other team.

But the Warriors are in the West. So not only must they worry about themselves, but other teams as well.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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