The No. 6-seeded Golden State Warriors and No. 3-seeded Sacramento Kings will face each other for the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs starting Saturday night.
Not only will it be the first time the two Northern California teams have faced each other in the playoffs, but also the first time the two local teams have faced the playoffs in the same season since the Kings headed west from Kansas City in 1985.
The series begins at 5:30 p.m. PT at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. The rest of the series schedule is unknown as of Sunday night.
“Everything we’ve been through this season is nice to be officially in the playoffs with a week to prepare and get our minds and bodies ready,” said Steph Curry. “The narrative, historical context of it all is just part of this time of year and it’s great to know we’re back in the fray and have a chance and hopefully off to a good start.”
The No. 6 seed is the lowest playoff seed the Warriors have had since the 2013–14 season, when they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in a seven-game first-round showdown.
Golden State will aim to be the first team under the fourth seed to win a title since the 1995 Houston Rockets. And they have some confidence they can do it as defending champions with that same core bolstered by a decade of playoff experience and success. Plus, they meet a young Kings team in a place where they once were: full of young energy and little experience.
“We can use last year’s success as a model to win,” said Curry. “It’s just a matter of whether we can do it. And I know we can do it.”
Here are some of the keys looked at in the first round series:
Draymond Green made it clear in a recent podcast episode that he would rather play the Kings in a series.
Not because the Kings are a “weak team,” but because the Warriors road trip will require them to board a bus for a little over an hour ride up and down I-80.
“The reason I said Sac is just because of the travelling,” he said on the Draymond Green Show last month. “That demands a lot from your body. If we can ride the bus for an hour and 10 minutes, I think that’s much better for us. In the end I don’t really care who we play against in the play-offs, I think we can win.”
About 90 miles separate San Francisco and Sacramento. The Warriors’ shortest flight during the final playoffs was 2.5 hours to Denver, which also came with the added difficulty of playing at high altitudes. Then they had longer runs for series against the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks, culminating in a cross-country final against the Boston Celtics.
Travel puts a strain on the body, Green noted. And with several members of the Warriors core in their mid-thirties, no doubt dealing with various aches and bruises, easier travel can ease the burden.
In addition, an easy road trip could be helpful for the team with the worst road record (11-30) of any Western Conference playoff team.
“You don’t have to be stuck with the routine on the road,” Curry said. “It’s nice to be back in bed pretty quickly. It’s useful… In the end it doesn’t matter, we’ve been through it enough and know how to adapt. But it is useful.”
The head to head
This series could be an offensive spectacle. The Warriors and Kings are both powerful, fluid offenses.
That’s because Kings head coach Mike Brown, formerly a longtime assistant at Golden State, implemented something similar to what the Warriors use.
Center Domantas Sabonis has taken on a facilitator role similar to that of Draymond Green. He is a dribbling machine and opens up the floor to create many looks for De’Aaron Fox and Kevin Huerter. As did Green and Kevon Looney – and Andrew Bogut in the past – to Curry, Klay Thompson and other goal scorers who have come through Golden State over the years.
The Kings’ 119.7 offensive rating is the best in the league, putting them seven spots ahead of the Warriors and their 116.6 rating.
The Warriors could gain an advantage on the defensive side of the ball. The Kings’ defensive rating of 116.8 is the worst of any playoff team in either conference. And while the Warriors aren’t much better – their rating of 114.4 is 14th in the league – they have a history of closing in defensively in the postseason and have some reinforcements that could boost them.
Gary Payton II may have lost some of his attacking prowess, but since his return from injury two weeks ago, he has impressed as an upsetter in the passing lanes and one-on-one. A force with Donte DiVincenzo on the perimeter with Green and Looney at anchor, the Warriors have had a bit of a shake up defensively. And in the two weeks since Payton’s return, the Warriors’ 107.2 defensive rating ranks first in the league over that span.
Payton could be crucial in limiting high-octane Fox.
There’s also Andrew Wiggins, whose timeline for his return to court is still unknown, though it’s hoped he’ll be ready for the first round. The Warriors can become even stronger if he can play defensively at the level he played last postseason.