Ok. Let’s just put it out there. The Golden State Warriors are the best team in basketball. That’s not rocket science. They may not match their record-breaking regular season mark of 73-9 they set last year. That is irrelevant. More than halfway into the 2016-17 NBA season, the Warriors have already hit the nine-loss log.
But they keep chugging along like they haven’t skipped a beat from last year, despite the fact they choked away a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. They’re still pretty good. The question becomes are they good enough to overcome that mind-probing obstacle of blowing a commanding lead to lose out on their second straight NBA title?
Maybe. Maybe not. More than likely, my hunch says not. The Warriors could drop a couple of more games before this season plays itself out, and they’ll be considered as the team to beat.
But does it matter?
The Warriors were the team to beat last season. Golden State wound up getting handed a lot of mud on their faces after that meltdown against the Cavaliers. The regular season is what it is: the regular season. The measure of greatness is not what a team does during the regular season, but what it does in the postseason.
The Warriors are probably not at all too worried about this because they have Kevin Durant. Yes, that same Kevin Durant who rode shotgun with the mercurial Russell Westbrook as they took the Oklahoma City Thunder from a no-name brand team into a championship-caliber squad over the course of eight seasons.
Yes, that same Kevin Durant who came within one game of knocking off the very team he joined in the offseason from reaching the NBA Finals.
The Warriors, with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and slayer Klay Thompson, to go along with Durant, has been hailed as a no-brainer as the team to beat in the chase for title.
That would include the LeBron James-led Cavaliers, which upset the Warriors to snatch the NBA title away from Golden State. Thanks to KD locking arms with Curry, Green and Thompson, the Warriors have become the team to dred, the league’s Big, Bad Wolf.
Well, the Warriors were supposed to be big and bad last year when they got slain by the Cavaliers. It could very well happen again. Getting Durant does not guarantee the Warriors a title. They still have to come out of the Western Conference where the pathway to the championship series won’t be as easy as a hop, skip and a jump.
The Cavaliers showed if you put some muscle on them and approach playing the Warriors with a box of knock-on-wood mentality, you can put the Splash Brothers and their co-stars on the seat of their pants looking for answers. The San Antonio Spurs have the coach in Greg Popovich and talent to do just that.
The Houston Rockets can give the Warriors a run for their money. Now that the New Orleans Pelicans have acquired the great DeMarcus Cousins, the all-star center and stud forward Anthony Davis can create problems for the Warriors as well.
Memphis is still rugged and tough to beat, but the Grizzlies don’t have enough quarter horses to keep up with Golden State’s rapid pace. That takes them out of the equation. And this leads to the on-off-on again status of the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that have dropped 10 games in a row to the Warriors.
Golden State’s 123-113 and 133-120 wins against the Clippers in February, gave the two-time reigning Western Conference champions more notches in their belts in whipping their West Coast rivals. But again, this has been the regular season in which the Clippers have fell victim to Golden State. This hasn’t been the postseason.
It was just a couple of years ago the Clippers and Warriors went at each other in the playoffs. The Warriors, then coached by Mark Jackson, took the Clippers to seven games before bowing out in the first round to their Pacific Division rivals.
That almost seems like eons ago. Since then, the Warriors have been in the NBA Finals the last two seasons.
Golden State is favored to reach that destination a third straight time. There are a lot of basketball experts that wouldn’t give the Clippers chicken scratch of a chance of beating the Warriors if the two teams ever met in the playoffs again, especially given Golden State’s current 10-game win streak against Los Angeles.
From that perspective, it seems crystal clear that the Warriors have taken their game to the next level, while the Clippers have been stuck in third gear for the last couple of seasons. For whatever reason, the Clippers can’t seem to get out of their way in the second round each year. Matchups in the playoffs may have everything to do with it.
And so while the Clippers have struggled the last couple of seasons in the postseason, does that mean they won’t find the nucleus to somehow topple the Warriors should they ever meet in the playoffs? A lot of people would scoff at that notion. Their thinking would be along the lines of please, the Clippers shouldn’t even bother to show up.
That was the same sentiment people gave Cleveland when they played Golden State. The Warriors had become everybody’s “Fun Bunch” team. They’re cool; they’re what’s happening. They also got mitch-slapped by the Cavaliers. That goes to show you that nothing is over until it’s over, and that despite any kinds of odds stacked against you, greatness can still rise.
For some odd reason, even though Golden State has had their way with the Clippers through the last 10 games, Los Angeles is probably the least likely team the Warriors would want to face in the postseason. Sometimes numbers can be deceiving. Statistics can never measure the heart of a player thirsty enough to do whatever it takes to win a championship.
Do you really think Chris Paul would concede anything to Steph Curry? That would be a no. What will it take for Blake Griffin to go from playing good against Draymond Green to dominating him all over the court? What about KD? Austin Rivers and Marreese Speights have enough moxie in them to negate anything he does. How much longer can we see Doc Rivers playing second-fiddle to Steve Kerr.
There’s something to be said about being hungry. When you’re hungry you tend to go chomping at the bit. Despite all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with the regular season, the Clippers still seem to have the best answer in the Western Conference of dethroning the uptick Warriors. They just need a plate when they come to the table.