Steinmetz: Warriors should make playoffs

If the Warriors don’t make the playoffs this season, failing to build on their wonderful 2006-07 season, they won’t have the Western Conference to blame.

In recent years, it’s been easy to talk up the disparity between conferences. The East is a joke; the West is brutal. Not this year. True, the top teams in the West — San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Houston and Utah — are more than formidable.

But the West is no longer a top-to-bottom conference and the Warriors should be able to take advantage of that. For the first time in a while, the Warriors have every right to head into a season thinking they’re better than most teams in the conference.

That has something to do with the Warriors themselves, but it also has something to do with the competition.

There are five teams in the Western Conference you can already cross off your playoffs lists: Minnesota, Portland, Seattle, the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento.

The Timberwolves may be the worst team in the conference after trading Kevin Garnett; the Trail Blazers figured to be an up-and-comer until Greg Oden’s injury set them back a full year; the SuperSonics are going young and have lost Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen; the Clippers will be without Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston for months; and the Kings just aren’t that good anymore.

You can take it a step further also. How about the Los Angeles Lakers? They won 42 games a season ago, but Kobe Bryant is unhappy and wants out. Do you really think that issue is going to go away? It’s more likely to sabotage their season.

The Memphis Grizzlies, who won just 22 games a year ago, figure to improve now that Pau Gasol is healthy. But a look at the numbers from a season ago tells you that Gasol missed only 23 games. So it wasn’t just Gasol’s injury that held down Memphis.

Fact is, the Grizzlies are still in the process of changing their style from plodding to running and they’re not all the way there yet. It’s tough to buy into the notion that the Grizzlies are going to win 20 more games than last year.

The New Orleans Hornets won 39 games a season ago, despite being devastated by injuries. If New Orleans is healthy this season, they’re going to be in the mix. But the Hornets are no better than the Warriors, at least not right now.

The Warriors have a few of their own problems, the first of which will present itself opening night and for the subsequent seven games when Stephen Jackson sits out his suspension.

There’s also that thing about rebounding — which hasn’t really been addressed.

But these are small things when compared with other teams’ issues. It might be an uncomfortable idea for Warriors fans to grasp, but the notion is true nonetheless: The Warriors should make the playoffs this year.

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

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