Mixed re­views for War­riors’ pursuers

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SPORTS - Ryan Wolstat rwol­stat@ post­media. com

Sev­eral Western Con­fer­ence squads loaded up this sum­mer in pur­suit of the pow­er­house Golden State War­riors, a team heav­ily favoured to re­peat as NBA cham­pi­ons.

Min­nesota added Jimmy But­ler, per­haps for­merly the East’s best two- way player, while Oklahoma City gifted reign­ing MVP Rus­sell West­brook with both Paul Ge­orge, an­other great two-way threat, and Carmelo An­thony, one of the pre-em­i­nent scor­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. Chris Paul, one of the best point guards, joined MVP run­ner-up James Har­den in Hous­ton.

It is far too early in the sea­son to make any de­fin­i­tive calls, but the in­stant anal­y­sis show mixed re­sults.

At 8- 5 ( all stats prior to Tues­day’s games), Min­nesota is off to its best start since 2003- 04, a sea­son that saw the Wolves win a fran­chis­ere­cord 58 games and fall to the Lak­ers in six games in the con­fer­ence fi­nals.

But­ler has taken a step back of­fen­sively (a whop­ping 7.7 fewer points per game than when he did ev­ery­thing for Chicago last year) and has not played up to his usual stan­dards there yet, but he is tak­ing pres­sure off of young fran­chise cor­ner­stones Kar­lAn­thony Towns and Andrew Wig­gins. The of­fence has been great ( eighth in ef­fi­ciency), the de­fence a tire fire (26th), but for once, you can see the shape of some­thing of sub­stance start­ing to emerge in Min­nesota.

While Oklahoma City’s 6-7 record makes it ap­pear to be among the big­gest early dis­ap­point­ments, don’t be fooled. OKC ac­tu­ally has been solid, with three of the losses com­ing by four points or fewer. Aside from com­pletely dis­in­te­grat­ing in the clutch, the Thun­der has mostly looked good, with only the Bos­ton Celtics al­low­ing fewer points per 100 pos­ses­sions, per stats. nba.com.

Hous­ton has been the odd­est story. De­spite los­ing Paul to in­jury fol­low­ing a one­point win on open­ing night against Golden State, the Rock­ets roared into an 11- 3 start be­fore Tues­day’s meet­ing with the Toronto Rap­tors.

Har­den has been in­cred­i­ble, with re­cent lines of 56 points and 13 as­sists, 26 and 15, 35 and 13 and 38 and eight. Har­den ranks first in as­sists per game, sec­ond in scor­ing, first in win shares and value over re­place­ment player. So, can Paul help him carry the load, or will he just get in the way once he re­turns to ac­tion?

New Or­leans made its move late last sea­son, ac­quir­ing DeMar­cus Cousins and pair­ing him with fel­low dom­i­nant big man An­thony Davis and the re­sults have been en­cour­ag­ing. The Pel­i­cans have gone against the grain in this small- ball era by build­ing around a pair of mon­strously skilled giants.

A peren­ni­ally dis­mal fran­chise is now solidly in the play­off mix, mostly thanks to Cousins and Davis. They al­ready have a pair of games in which each notched at least 30 points and 10 re­bounds, the first time a duo has man­aged that since Charles Barkley and Moses Malone in 1985-86.

No team­mates have ever av­er­aged 25 and 10 for an en­tire sea­son and only nine have man­aged 20 and 10. Imag­ine if they ever get team­mates who com­ple­ment their strengths (that is, shoot­ers).

MICHAEL WYKE / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rock­ets guard James Har­den briefly loses the ball un­der pres­sure from Toronto’s Pas­cal Si­akam Tues­day night in Hous­ton. The Rap­tors beat the Rock­ets 129-113. For a full re­port on the game, go to na­tion­al­post.com/sports.

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