Who Competes with Golden State for the NBA Title | Can they be knocked off?
by Doug Upstone Scores & Statson
Take it easy, I know, I know, we have months to go until the NBA regular season is over, but we can talk it about it, right? Think of it as I am Jay Bilas, where I'm the smartest guy on the planet and we are sitting in a bar. I promised you three beers, but you don't get the first one until I'm done talking. You get your beer and then you can tell me how wise I am (or not).
Everyone agrees the Warriors are on the plateau of their own and over the last month, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Could they have played in some instances, I have no doubt they would have it was the Western or NBA Finals. Coach Steve Kerr knows setting the 73-win record was historic, but blowing 3-1 Finals lead with a gassed team was not. This managing of minutes matters now.
Injuries more than anything would be the one aspect that could derail Golden State. But is that only factor or is someone lurking out there we should think more closely about?
Boston Has the Defense, But Can They Score Enough?
Out East, Boston is the one team that could put a good enough regular season together to wrestle away a Finals home-court advantage from Golden State. Without Gordon Heyward, the Celtics are only 21st in field goal percentage and 15th in offensive efficiency (points per possession). Unless they make a trade for another scorer, hard to imagine the C's closing the gap at this time.
Cleveland, Toronto or Washington Have a Shot?
We know playoff basketball is different from the regular season, which is understood. While Cleveland's defense is even worse than last year, it's not going to get better, especially when Isaiah Thomas returns to full-time duty. That that will matter in the playoffs.
Toronto and Washington, they were token add-ons, as nobody can take them seriously until they prove something.
Are the Houston Rockets For Real?
The Rockets took the superstar approach to combat the Warriors. Chris Paul has blended far better with James Harden earlier than anyone expected. Paul's personality has also added an edge to what has been thought of as a 'soft' team. However, Houston has a poor history against Golden State since they started this run and they seem short of having enough defense and the mental capacity to beat Kerr's club four times in a series. Let's also not lose sight of the fact coach Mike D'Antoni might be an offensive mastermind, but elite bench coach, probably not.
Oklahoma City, San Antonio or Minnesota With a Chance?
It's fair to say the Thunder are a disappointment at this juncture. They are better than they were early in the season, but still not a consistent group. There is still a lot of time for Oklahoma City to work the kinks out and they have the right veteran mix that could do well in the playoffs. Still, unless the Thunder could get scalding hot and climb to a third seed in the West, hard to see them as much of a threat.
San Antonio is perfectly built for the regular season but lacks the star power even with a healthy Khawi Leonard to play Golden State on even terms.
Minnesota would not beat Curry and company should they meet in the postseason, but they are intriguing. Having Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson offers a great deal of playoff experience. Former No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are learning this season what it takes to be ready to play hard every night with the right kind of leadership. Currently, Golden State should handle them with ease, but by early May, the Timberwolves might be a much better unit, which could set up fascinating 1 vs. 4 matchup.
At this point, no reason to think Golden State does not go back-to-back.