The lasting image of the 2015-16 season will be Golden State stepping on 29 other teams’ necks, one after another, as the Dubs climbed the steps to the NBA Parthenon. Right now, though, the Warriors stand on the precipice of history. A lot can happen over this final stretch of the regular season: a landscape-altering injury, a cryptic social media outburst. But the only thing that really matters is getting to 73 wins.
To do that, Golden State will need to finish the season 6-2 against the T-Wolves, Jazz, Celtics, Blazers, Spurs (twice), and Grizzlies (twice).
Let’s rank the Warriors’ final enemies.
Level 1, Minion: Minnesota Timberwolves (April 5)
Level 2, Grunt: Boston Celtics (April 1)
Brad Stevens is a master chef working without top-shelf ingredients. He’s crafted a top-four defense without a rim protector — a Quickfire Challenge wonder. But the C’s have been steadily leaking points of late. Their March defensive rating of 104.5 is five points worse than their pre-All-Star-break, “WOW LOOK AT THE CELTICS!” mark.
Level 3, Elite: Memphis Grizzlies (April 9 and 13)
Memphis’s players have missed 260 (and counting) games because of injury this season, and the team is running out four players on 10-day contracts. Yet this knockoff version of Grit and Grind might be the Grizzlies’ most impressive jujitsu yet: They are somehow sitting at fifth in the West (.554 win percentage) despite a minus-1.6 point differential.
Level 3, Mini-Boss: Portland Trail Blazers (April 3)
One of this season’s delights has been the Blazers not being trash after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, and Robin Lopez. Damian Lillard and (future Most Improved Player Award winner) C.J. McCollum power a Warriors-lite offense that’s already done the improbable by laying a 32-point beatdown on Golden State in the first game back after the All-Star break. (This, combined with the Dubs’ loss to the Lakers at Staples after two days off in L.A., makes it clear that hangovers are a Warriors weakness.)
Level 4, Super-Boss: Utah Jazz (Tonight)
Utah has a sturdy top-10 defense predicated on smothering opponents’ pick-and-rolls and gumming up the transition. The Jazz are playing at the slowest, most stultifying pace in the NBA for the second year crawling. Not only do they take the air out of the ball, but Salt Lake City’s location, high in the Wasatch Mountain Range, steals their opponents’ breath, like the troll in Cat’s Eye. Related: The Warriors go to Utah on the second night of a back-to-back.
Level 5, Final Boss: San Antonio Spurs (April 7 and 10)
Who else? The title favorite in any other season except this one, the Spurs may be all that stand between the Warriors and history. With playoff seedings essentially locked up, though, will Pop rest his starters and cede the home-and-home to Golden State? My gut says, Nah. He respects the game too much to let the Dubs walk to 73. If given the chance to put the brakes on a historic season, the Spurs have to take it. That’s what final bosses do.
This piece originally appeared in the March 30, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.