Sur­prise! War­riors still the best in the West

Manteca Bulletin - - Sports - By TIM REYNOLDS

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 off­sea­son 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 Kar­lAn­thony 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.

WHAT TO KNOW

WAR­RIORS GOLDEN: Let’s not for­get that on the way to win­ning their sec­ond ti­tle in three sea­sons, the War­riors went 31-2 in their fi­nal 33 games. A 16-1 record in the post­sea­son is ridicu­lous to think about, and so is this — count­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and the play­offs, Golden State went 82-8 when scor­ing at least 103 points. (When the War­riors scored 102 or less, they went 1-9.)

WEST­BROOK WATCH: To put MVP Russell West­brook’s av­er­ag­ing of a triple-dou­ble last sea­son into per­spec­tive, note that 11 other play­ers av­er­aged dou­ble-dou­bles in points and re­bounds, and only two oth­ers did in points and as­sists. Hav­ing more help on the floor now with Paul Ge­orge and Carmelo An­thony should al­low West­brook to have even more en­ergy at win­ning time. Scary.

PLAY­OFF HIS­TORY: If San An­to­nio makes the play­offs this sea­son, which would seem like a bit of a safe bet, it would be the 21st con­sec­u­tive post­sea­son trip for the Spurs. That would tie Port­land (1983-2003) for the sec­ond-long­est streak in NBA his­tory, and put San An­to­nio one shy of match­ing Philadel­phia’s run of 22 straight ap­pear­ances from 1950 through 1971.

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