THE USUAL SUS­PECTS PAGES 8-11

Curry and Co top bets to win NBA ti­tle again

Bangkok Post - - SPORTS - writes Tim Reynolds

Golden State coach Steve Kerr is a happy man th­ese days.

He’s got a new con­tract. He’s got his son Nick, who was help­ing out in San An­to­nio, work­ing in the War­riors’ video room now. He’s lead­ing a team who have won three of the last four NBA cham­pi­onships and are the over­whelm­ing favourites to win it again in the 2018-2019 sea­son which be­gins on Tues­day.

Stay­ing happy will be the chal­lenge for Kerr and the War­riors this sea­son, when Western Con­fer­ence ri­vals re­sume their at­tempts to take down the champs.

“Our place in the history of the league is pretty se­cure,” Kerr said. “I don’t think our guys should feel a ton of pres­sure. I think they should feel the im­por­tance of try­ing to do it again, be­cause this may be the last time we have this cur­rent it­er­a­tion of the War­riors, just given all the free agents and the money crunch and every­thing else.”

LeBron James took his tal­ents to Los An­ge­les, sign­ing with the Lak­ers and mov­ing out of the East for the first time in his ca­reer. Hous­ton had the NBA’s best reg­u­lar-sea­son record a year ago and have reign­ing MVP James Har­den. Utah have a bud­ding su­per­star in Dono­van Mitchell, and cer­tainly got the league’s at­ten­tion with their play-off run last sea­son.

But in the West, un­til fur­ther no­tice, it’s still the War­riors and then ev­ery­body else.

“It’s a marathon,” War­riors guard Stephen Curry said. “There’s a lot of time be­tween now and April and May and June, but if we go about it the right way to start the sea­son, it can feed on it­self in terms of the ex­pec­ta­tion we have night in, night out.”

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

PLAY-OFF BOUND

1. Golden State: The War­riors are aim­ing for their third con­sec­u­tive NBA cham­pi­onship, some­thing only the Lak­ers, Celtics and Bulls fran­chises have done.

2. Utah: Dono­van Mitchell is a le­git­i­mate star, coach Quin Sny­der has been un­der­rated for far too long, and the Jazz went 29-6 to fin­ish last sea­son.

3. Hous­ton: The Rock­ets have the MVP in James Har­den, a leader in Chris Paul and added Carmelo An­thony, but ex­pect­ing an­other 67-15 sea­son is a lot.

4. LA Lak­ers: LeBron James is still the best player in the game and shows no signs of slow­ing down, so doubt­ing his chances seems less than bril­liant.

5. Ok­la­homa City: This is a sign of how loaded the West re­mains: The Thunder are re­ally good, and that won’t as­sure them home­court for Round One.

6. Den­ver: Los­ing Game 82 last sea­son to Min­nesota and miss­ing the play-offs be­cause of that out­come should serve as a mas­sive mo­ti­va­tor for Den­ver.

7. New Or­leans: DeMar­cus Cousins is gone, Ra­jon Rondo is gone, but An­thony Davis is still there and that should be enough for a Pel­i­cans play-off run.

8. San An­to­nio: De­jounte Mur­ray’s ACL tear is a dis­as­ter, but any team with LaMar­cus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Gregg Popovich still have a lot.

IN THE MIX

9. Port­land: The West’s No.3 seeds last sea­son, the Blazers were only three games ahead of No.9 and will face a se­ri­ous bat­tle in a very loaded West.

10. Dal­las: Luka Don­cic is NBA-ready, DeAn­dre Jor­dan will make the Mavs bet­ter and Dirk Now­itzki de­serves to see his fran­chise trending up again.

11. LA Clip­pers: A pos­si­ble tran­si­tional year for the Clip­pers, who should be ma­jor play­ers in free agency next sum­mer and could add a lottery pick.

LONG ODDS

12. Min­nesota: The Jimmy But­ler de­ba­cle shows that some big changes in di­rec­tion are prob­a­bly go­ing to hap­pen in Min­nesota, and sooner than later.

13. Phoenix: Devin Booker got his max deal and the Suns got No.1 pick Dean­dre Ay­ton, but fir­ing GM Ryan McDonough so close to the sea­son was odd.

14. Mem­phis: Mike Con­ley and Marc Ga­sol are savvy vets, but they are go­ing to need a lot of help if Mem­phis are go­ing to se­ri­ously im­prove this sea­son.

15. Sacra­mento: The Kings had a league­high 44 games last sea­son where they didn’t score 100 points, and a very young team might not change that much.

WHAT TO KNOW

LE BRON: If he has even an aver­age-for-him sea­son, new Los An­ge­les Lak­ers star LeBron James will rise to No.4 on the NBA’s all-time scor­ing list this sea­son. He’s cur­rently No.7, with No.6 Dirk Now­itzki, No.5 Wilt Cham­ber­lain and No.4 Michael Jor­dan well within reach. Add 2,000 or so points to James’ to­tal of 31,038, and only No.3 Kobe Bryant, No.2 Karl Malone and No.1 Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar — all for­mer Lak­ers — would still be ahead of him.

STEPH RIS­ING: Speak­ing of ris­ing up ca­reer charts, Golden State’s Stephen Curry could eas­ily be No.3 on the all-time list for three-point­ers made by the end of this sea­son. Curry has 2,129 three-point­ers in 625 ca­reer games, a rate of 3.4 made per game. The six play­ers ahead of him -Ray Allen, Reg­gie Miller, Ja­son Terry, Kyle Korver, Ja­mal Crawford and Paul Pierce - av­er­aged 1.8 made

three-point­ers per game.

BIG NUMBERS: The only play­ers in the last 30 sea­sons to aver­age 30 points and eight as­sists were Ok­la­homa City’s Rus­sell West­brook in 201617 and Hous­ton’s James Har­den last sea­son. Prob­a­bly not co­in­ci­den­tally, West­brook and Har­den won MVP awards for those sea­sons. There are seven ac­tive play­ers with at least one MVP award in the NBA right now, and all seven play in the West.

GREAT COACHES: San An­to­nio’s Gregg Popovich en­ters the sea­son with 1,197 wins, fifth-most in NBA history — 13 be­hind Pat Ri­ley and 24 be­hind Jerry Sloan. Mean­while, Golden State’s Steve Kerr comes into the year with the high­est win­ning per­cent­ages dur­ing both the reg­u­lar sea­son (265-63, .808) and the post­sea­son (63-20, .759) in NBA history. Here’s how far ahead Kerr is on the NBA’s all-time reg­u­lar sea­son win­ning per­cent­age list: If the War­riors go 24-58 this sea­son, which seems less than likely, he would still be above Phil Jackson for the No.1 spot.

VER­SUS EAST: The West beat the East for the ninth con­sec­u­tive sea­son in head-to-head match-ups, win­ning nearly 53 per­cent of the cross-con­fer­ence match-ups in the reg­u­lar sea­son (and 100 per­cent of them in the NBA Fi­nals). Over the last nine sea­sons, West teams have beaten East teams nearly 57 per­cent of the time.

War­riors play­ers, from left, Kevin Du­rant, Dray­mond Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and DeMar­cus Cousins pose dur­ing a photo ses­sion ahead of the new sea­son.

Last sea­son MVP James Har­den of the Hous­ton Rock­ets.

Dono­van Mitchell of the Utah Jazz.

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