Golden State is the team to beat out West, again

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

And now we know: It worked. The big ques­tion at this time last sea­son was about Golden State and how it would work when tak­ing a high-oc­tane team and adding a dy­namic scorer like Kevin Du­rant to the mix. Pun­dits won­dered how the shots would be dis­trib­uted, who would take the big shots in crunch time, how would Du­rant fare along­side another MVP in Stephen Curry.

The an­swer came in June, when the War­riors hoisted their sec­ond cham­pi­onship tro­phy in three years.

Another sea­son has ar­rived, the Western Con­fer­ence looks loaded yet again, and Golden State is go­ing to be prac­ti­cally everyone’s pick to fin­ish atop the heap yet again.

“We don’t have guys that are self­ish at all, that are jeal­ous of any­body else’s suc­cess or go­ing to cre­ate drama if they get five shots one game and 15 shots the next game,” Curry said. “As long as we win.”

It may not be as easy this sea­son, and the War­riors are wel­com­ing that chal­lenge.

Hous­ton has gone all-in on a title chase, giv­ing up seven play­ers, a fu­ture first-round pick and cash to bring Chris Paul over from the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers to join James Har­den in a back­court that can match up with any other — the War­riors’ duo of Curry and Klay Thomp­son in­cluded. And Ok­la­homa City has the reign­ing MVP in Rus­sell West­brook, plus two new peren­nial All-Stars in Paul Ge­orge and Carmelo An­thony who have re­lo­cated to re­sume their ring-chas­ing.

So there are new looks out West.

The War­riors are largely the same, with good rea­son. They’ve been al­most un­beat­able for three years, and have no plans to change that now.

“It’s crazy,” Thomp­son said. “The West just got stronger. But it will be fun.”

A look at the West, in pre­dicted or­der of fin­ish:

PLAY­OFF BOUND

1. Golden State - The War­riors need to avoid in­juries and bore­dom over the next six months. They know win­ning in June is the only thing that mat­ters.

2. Hous­ton - Chris Paul and James Har­den in the same back­court is only go­ing to make Mike D’An­toni more cre­ative. Le­git con­cern: Will they over­pass?

3. San An­to­nio - Kawhi Leonard deal­ing with a leg prob­lem in the pre­sea­son isn’t op­ti­mal. But the off-sea­son ad­di­tion of Rudy Gay may prove sig­nif­i­cant.

4. Ok­la­homa City - MVP Rus­sell West­brook now has Paul Ge­orge and Carmelo An­thony with him. How will they mesh? They have 82 games to fig­ure it out.

5. Min­nesota - This has to be the year where the Tim­ber­wolves break through. Jimmy But­ler with Karl-An­thony Towns and An­drew Wig­gins will be su­perb.

6. Den­ver - The Nuggets kept the core of their ros­ter in­tact, added Paul Mill­sap in a bril­liant move, and Nikola Jo­kic is a bud­ding star. Watch this team.

7. Utah - Don’t count the Jazz out. Gor­don Hayward is gone and Dante Exum is hurt, but coach Quin Sny­der has shown he knows how to ad­just on the fly.

8. L.A. Clip­pers - Los­ing Chris Paul will hurt in many ways on and off the floor, but the Clip­pers still have enough to be in the play­off chase even out West.

IN THE MIX

9. Port­land - It’s ab­surd to think that a back­court of CJ Mc­Col­lum and Damian Lil­lard might not lead to a top-eight fin­ish in the West. But over whom?

10. Mem­phis - David Fiz­dale has com­pletely en­deared him­self to play­ers, and that’s a big rea­son why the Griz­zlies should hang around the race all sea­son.

11. Dal­las - Dirk Now­itzki isn’t play­ing a 20th sea­son be­cause of money. He’s think­ing the Mavs will be bet­ter, and if they stay healthy he may be right.

FAC­ING LONG ODDS

12. New Or­leans - An­thony Davis, DeMar­cus Cousins and (when he re­turns) Ra­jon Rondo on one team. Great for Ken­tucky. Un­sure for New Or­leans.

13. L.A. Lak­ers - Lonzo Ball will be ex­cit­ing and it’s a new era for the Lak­ers. But the re­build will take time, un­less L.A. hits a free-agent jack­pot in 2018.

14. Phoenix - Devin Booker had great num­bers last sea­son and the Suns have a strong young core. The devel­op­ment will have to con­tinue this sea­son.

15. Sacra­mento - It’s easy to see the plan. Kings have tons of youth, had a great draft in June and will let the kids learn from the likes of Vince Carter.

AP PHOTO

Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves’ Jeff Teague (right) is blocked by Golden State War­riors’ Kevin Du­rant dur­ing the 2017 NBA Global Games in Shen­zhen, south China’s Guang­dong prov­ince on Oct. 5.

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