The Golden State Warriors Are the Biggest Western Conference Champion Favorites Ever

By the numbers, the Warriors won't have to play any team in these playoffs that's even half as good as they are.

Tonight, the West’s 1-seeded Golden State Warriors face the 2-seeded Houston Rockets. However, the Warriors are far from a normal 1 seed, and the Rockets aren’t really a normal 2 seed, either. In fact, the difference between the two is the highest we've ever seen in the West.

I looked at each team's SRS, or Simple Rating System, on Basketball Reference -– it’s basically just a metric that combines point differential with opponent strength to give a composite number of generally how good a team is. Since it relies heavily on point differential, records don’t really matter. We know that point differential is a much better predictor of future success than mere win-loss record, which is much noisier.

Here’s a table of all West 1 and 2 seeds since 1985 and their SRS. As you’ll see, most of the time, the teams are fairly close. Some years, the second seeds are even the superior team. However, that's certainly not the case this season.

Playoff Year#1 Seed#1 SRS#2 Seed#2 SRSDifference
1992Trail Blazers6.94Jazz5.701.24
1991Trail Blazers8.47Spurs4.304.17

The difference in SRS between the Warriors and Rockets this year is astronomical at 6.19. There has never even been a difference of 5.0 or greater. Part of this is a combination of the Warriors being incredibly good -– historically so, in fact –- with a double-digit SRS, and the Rockets being one of the lower two seeds in recent times.

The most recent 2 seeds from the West were very respectable -– it’s been the Spurs and Thunder the last several years. However, this year, the Thunder are obviously without Kevin Durant, who unfortunately couldn’t follow up one of the better MVP seasons of all time, and the Spurs, who dealt with injuries all year long and couldn’t get in enough rhythm in time (while also getting perhaps the toughest first round matchup ever in the Clippers) to make it to Round 2.

There are many articles being written today about how the Rockets are much different than perhaps their numbers suggest –- mostly because they played the majority of their season without star big man Dwight Howard. However, it still wouldn’t put that much of a dent in the difference between the two teams. Would the difference be historically large? Maybe not to the extent it is at present, but it’d probably still be at the top of the group.

However, even though the Rockets aren’t close, they’re at least still a bit closer than the Warriors previous opponents (Memphis’ SRS was 3.62 and New Orleans’ was 1.13). Regardless, it’s still a very low number and suggests that the Rockets will be at a severe disadvantage in this series. In fact, our numbers give Golden State about an 81% chance at making it to the Finals.

And if they get there, they’re not going to face an opponent much better than they have in the West. Still, both the Hawks (4.75) and the Cavs (4.08) are a bit better, even if those numbers are flawed because of the injury to Kevin Love and the regression of the Hawks over the last couple months. It’s still funny that for all of the cries that the West is vastly superior to the East (in terms of Golden State, it is), we have two East teams who both rate higher than Golden State’s Western Conference Finals opponent.

All of this leads to the conclusion that the Warriors really have everything to lose –- with the “Final Four” that’s left of the NBA, they are the clear favorites. In fact, their title odds (currently 62.65% according to our metrics) are much higher than Kentucky’s odds to win the championship prior to the NCAA Tournament. You never know with sports, but the numbers suggest that these playoffs are over.