Bruce Jenk­ins: War­riors’ big threats in East.

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - Around the NBA Bruce Jenk­ins is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. Email: bjenk­[email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @Bruce_Jenk­ins1

“We’re all ac­tors in a soap opera,” as War­riors coach

Steve Kerr put it so well, and there’s one in par­tic­u­lar that comes to mind. It’s called “Search for To­mor­row,” and although the show was can­celed years ago, it sounds a lot like to­day’s NBA.

We’ve all grown a bit weary of talk of how this sum­mer’s free-agent mar­ket will sort it­self out, but the trad­ing dead­line gave us a fresh and more rel­e­vant to­mor­row. The East­ern Con­fer­ence has taken over the league, and its cli­mac­tic play­off series are go­ing to be spec­tac­u­lar.

Kenny Smith cap­tured the essence on TNT on Thurs­day night. “The East­ern Con­fer­ence be­came the pow­er­house,” he said. “One through four in the East eas­ily matches the West­ern Con­fer­ence. I wouldn’t say that prior to to­day.”

It’s go­ing to take an in­ter­nal catas­tro­phe for the War­riors to fall short in the con­fer­ence play­offs. Teams might be plot­ting an up­set, but they’re kid­ding them­selves. The East now has four le­git­i­mate con­tenders to win the whole thing.

Start with the Mil­wau­kee Bucks, the East’s best team (by record) and look­ing es­pe­cially for­mi­da­ble with the ac­qui­si­tion of Nikola Mirotic from New Or­leans. This is a team that crushed Golden State in Oak­land this sea­son, and now comes another shooter who can de­fend and work un­selfishly in a very smooth-flow­ing of­fense. It be­comes eas­ier for coach Mike Bu­den­holzer to use line­ups with­out the pon­der­ous Brook Lopez and put

Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo at cen­ter. (Worth not­ing, in the won­der­ful world of to­mor­row: Four starters will be up for free agency, but the Bucks have a max-salary slot open to sign a big-name tal­ent.)

Un­like Mil­wau­kee, the Philadel­phia 76ers do not have their of­fense fig­ured out. At least that was the case un­til gen­eral man­ager El­ton Brand made another bold move, land­ing To­bias Har­ris from the Clip­pers. This is now be­ing called the sec­ond-best start­ing five be­hind the War­riors: Har­ris, Jimmy But­ler, Joel Em­biid, Ben Sim­mons and JJ Redick — and the 76ers added two po­ten­tially key play­ers, mas­sive cen­ter

Boban Mar­janovic and the springy Jonathon Sim­mons, for much-needed depth.

This team looked aw­fully good in Fri­day night’s vic­tory over Den­ver, af­ter which the Nuggets’ Nikola Jo­kic told re­porters, “They have a re­ally dan­ger­ous team right now. And when they start play­ing a lit­tle bit more, I think they’re go­ing to be re­ally, re­ally good.”

Har­ris couldn’t be­lieve his good for­tune, say­ing, “It was funny. Af­ter the game, some­body texted me and sent me a video of me smil­ing af­ter a play. They wrote, ‘This is lit­er­ally the first time I’ve ever seen you ac­tu­ally smile in a game.’ And I was like, ‘You ain’t lyin’.’ ”

So much de­pends on But­ler, who has clashed with coach

Brett Brown over shot dis­tri­bu­tion and hasn’t quite won over all of his team­mates. Here’s a tip for But­ler and ev­ery­one on the team: To catch the War­riors, you have to play like them. In­stead of “OK, I’ve got the ball, watch this,” try “Let’s see if some­body else has an even bet­ter shot.”

The Celtics didn’t re­ally have to do any­thing, and they were re­lieved that Anthony

Davis wasn’t traded to the Lak­ers. Davis is locked into New Or­leans for the rest of the sea­son, but the Celtics can legally con­tact the Pel­i­cans with a trade of­fer that could be­come fi­nal­ized af­ter July 1. They need to make sure Kyrie Irv­ing wants to sign a longterm deal, and de­cide whether

Jayson Ta­tum would be worth los­ing in a Davis deal. But that’s all about ... you got it, to­mor­row.

Not to be left be­hind, Toronto picked up cen­ter Marc

Ga­sol, whose mag­nif­i­cent game was los­ing its luster in Memphis. This sounds like a win­ner; Ga­sol is a team-first player who can score in­side and out. We’ll see how the chem­istry sorts out with

Serge Ibaka per­haps mov­ing to the bench (in­ter­est­ing to note that Ga­sol and Ibaka were team­mates on the Span­ish na­tional team) and with All-Star guard Kyle Lowry well aware that he was the sub­ject of re­cent trade talks.

⏩ Thurs­day’s tele­vised All-Star draft was a huge suc­cess, com­plete with wise­cracks and good hu­mor, and with ev­ery­one won­der­ing who will hook up with LeBron James and the Lak­ers next sea­son, it was amus­ing to watch LeBron choose Irv­ing, Davis, Kevin Du­rant and Kawhi Leonard for his All-Star squad.

The An­te­tok­oun­mpo-led team looks a bit weak in com­par­i­son, but it does in­clude Stephen Curry, who said, “They’re mea­sur­ing the teams up and ba­si­cally giv­ing them the crown al­ready. So I like us be­ing tech­ni­cally un­der­dogs. It’ll be cool with me and Kemba (Walker) — him be­ing a Hor­net, me com­ing back to Char­lotte — start­ing in the back­court to­gether. It should be fun.”

⏩ What we’d like to see in Char­lotte: Curry tries hard to win that 3-point con­test, but he gets outgunned by his brother, Seth.

⏩ Not traded to se­ri­ously con­tend­ing teams, and that’s a shame: Walker, Bradley Beal, Mike Con­ley, Jrue Hol­i­day, Lou Wil­liams, Zach LaVine and Aaron Gor­don.

⏩ Rough sea­son for Lonzo Ball. He hasn’t been in top form, due to off­sea­son knee surgery and more re­cent an­kle prob­lems. He be­came a father when his girl­friend, Denise Gar­cia, de­liv­ered a daugh­ter in July, but the two have grown apart, and their ar­range­ment finds Lonzo only able to see baby Zoey when the Lak­ers have off days at home. And it now seems that vet­eran Ra­jon Rondo is bet­ter suited to be next sea­son’s point guard along­side James.

For all of his an­noy­ing blus­ter, papa LaVar Ball did make sense the other day, sug­gest­ing Lonzo be dealt to Phoenix. He’d run that show un­con­di­tion­ally, and with a num­ber of good shoot­ers around him, his dy­namic pass-first game could truly flour­ish.

⏩ How things have changed: The cover of the Lak­ers’ 201617 me­dia guide fea­tured D’An­gelo Rus­sell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Jor­dan Clark­son and (the only one still in L.A.) Bran­don Ingram.

Nick Wass / As­so­ci­ated Press

Head coach Steve Kerr and the War­riors have ri­vals ris­ing in the East.

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