GOLDEN STATE, California – Forget the result. Put aside the win-loss record. Let go of Tuesday night’s defeat. The instant Stephen Curry returned to his club after missing 11 games due to a shoulder injury, the greatest team in the Western Conference took the court Wednesday night in San Francisco.
In the West, you should beat the Golden State Warriors, health permitting. All the other contenders for the throne that the Warriors still firmly claim are pursuing them.
Yes, it’s true that Curry’s return coincided with a setback against the depleted Phoenix Suns, a 125 to 113 defeat to a squad that had a six-game losing streak going into the game. Having lost, Golden State’s record fell to 20 to 21, or below 500. Curry’s three-point attempt was awful. Klay Thomspon as well. The team has already suffered three straight losses. To inferior teams. absolutely at home.
All the noise and commotion meant absolutely nothing. Not over time.
The perception that Steph Curry & Co. are the team to beat out West, despite recent setbacks, has been confirmed by numerous interactions with rival GMs and others across the NBA over the past week.
The Warriors, who won the most recent NBA championship, are still in a strong position to claim the competition.
Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, and Andrew Wiggins made up the renowned Warriors starting five for the first time since Dec. 2. This group won’t find its rhythm quickly. The same goes for Wiggins, who is playing in just his second game since suffering an injury, and Curry, who has played in his first game back.
When they do, they will have the strongest team in the league.
The top starting five in the league going into the game were the five Warriors. Delete it. The five players they had on the field made up the best rotation. With a large margin.
They only spent 278 minutes together, but they still had a +132-season total.
Given that they are tied for first place in the Western Conference with a record of 27 to 13, the Denver Nuggets starting lineup is noticeably superior to that. That group, however, increased by 109 in 301 minutes on Wednesday morning.
The Nuggets’ dominant position in the Western Conference standings perfectly exemplifies a competitive, packed, but not very threatening group of teams. True, strong candidates abound in the East. But in the West, only the Warriors can make that claim when they are both healthy, as they were on Tuesday, and playing well as a team, as they will shortly.
A major postseason liability is Denver’s defense. Even for those of us who really believe in their long-term potential, the Memphis Grizzlies, with whom they are now tied, are not necessarily the non-Warriors team I’d put my money on due to their youth and occasionally reckless exuberance.
Outside of the Warriors, the West is a constant litany of strong or intriguing but ultimately weak teams.
The Pelicans of New Orleans? When Zion Williamson is healthy, they might pose a threat. Without him, they are undoubtedly no contender, and his most recent setback serves yet another reminder that depending on Zion’s availability is a genuine danger.
Even the Suns, who defeated Golden State in Steph’s comeback, are nothing like they once were. A second scout said, “Chris Paul is washed,” and if that’s the case, which appears likely, then the Suns’ chances of winning the NBA championship are also over.
The Warriors, though, are the Warriors, making them the team to beat. Curry’s shaky start to the game on Tuesday and his terrible three-point shooting for the night are both symptoms of the natural rust that comes with a break.
But Thompson has begun to mostly round out. This team’s young players, especially Jordan Poole, seem well-positioned to contribute significantly to the second half of the campaign. And the Warriors’ bizarre 3 to 16 road record is what it is, but it’s an odd oddity. Don’t let it fool you.