Jeff Van Gundy: Warriors' Biggest Threats Are in Eastern Conference

The Warriors haven't seen much of LeBron James this season, after the Lakers star has not been able to play in their last two matchups.

If the Dubs want a piece of him, they'll have to wait until April 4, when they visit the Lakers in Los Angeles in the last meeting this season.

Maybe not, according to former NBA coach and current ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who as a guest on a recent Warriors Insider Podcast said there's a distinct possibility the two teams could meet in the Western Conference Finals.

"The only team I don't think a James team could beat or be competitive in a series is the Warriors," Van Gundy said. "Anybody else – Denver, Houston, San Antonio, Utah – all these other teams, they're very close. And I think James' Lakers could have a chance in any of those series."

The Lakers are 1.5 games outside the playoff picture as of Monday. They were in the thick the race before James sustained a groin injury in the third quarter of the Christmas Day game against the Warriors.

The Lakers, 20-14 at the time, lost 11 of next 17 before James returned last week. At 27-26, they have 29 games to get back into the top eight in the West.

If James stays healthy – and the roster doesn't undergo dramatic change – it's likely the LA will find its way to win the 18-20 games required to reach the playoffs.

"The Lakers were a lottery team before he arrived there, with some interesting young players, but certainly not a threat to make the playoffs," Van Gundy said. "With him, they're hovering on the brink of the playoffs. His injury set them back. As far as what can he do in the playoffs in the West? It's going to be interesting."

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Even so, Van Gundy believes the biggest threats to dethrone the Warriors are in the Eastern Conference.

The defending champions could face another Game 7 this season, but probably not before the 2019 NBA Finals, according to Van Gundy. The West simply doesn't offer as many legitimate threats, he said when comparing the conferences.

"The Western Conference, obviously, is better top to bottom," he said. "Only Phoenix is a bad team. Everybody else is pretty good.

"In the East, the top five are very good. After that, it thins out dramatically. So depth-wise, it's not comparable.

"But I do think whoever comes out of the East, if they play the Warriors in The Finals, there will be some interesting matchups. If it's Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, whoever does end up coming out of there, they pose some matchup problems. And depth-wise, they're suited to match up against this great Warriors team."

Recent history lends support to Van Gundy's opinions. The Warriors are 0-2 against the Raptors this season, 1-1 against the Bucks and 1-0 against the Celtics. They are 0-1 against the 76ers and 1-0 against the Pacers. That computes to a 3-4 record in head-to-head competition this season.

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