The Warriors are, once again, the best team in the NBA. At 37-10, they are a full three games ahead of the next closest team (Boston Celtics), and three and a half games up on the second place team in the Western Conference (Houston Rockets). Sure, they’ve lost some games that in years past they might have won, but nothing they’ve shown this year has given us any need for trepidation. The Warriors should — at the very least — compete for not only a fourth straight Western Conference title, but have a chance to win their third NBA championship in the last four years.
They’ve battled through an injury to Stephen Curry. They’ve fought off malaise and boredom. They are entering territory rarely explored throughout the entire history of the NBA. If they do make it to a fourth straight finals, they would be the first team to do so since the LeBron James-led Miami Heat accomplished the feat a few years ago, and would become only the fourth franchise in league history to ever do so, joining the Heat, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
But can they? Let’s take a quick look at some of the competition, especially in the Western Conference.
This will be Pt. 1 in a series, as we’ll take a deeper look at other Western Conference teams on Wednesday (Spurs, Thunder, and others), and potentially take a look at the top Eastern Conference teams later this week.
(Listed in order of Western Conference standings, as of today)
Houston Rockets, currently 32-12
In beating a (mostly) healthy Warriors team the other night, and by throughly playing their own game (as annoying as that can be), the Rockets showed the Warriors and the rest of the league that they are for real. When Clint Capela is playing his game, they can match up with the Warriors’ speed and physicality, and if their outside shooting is falling, they are perhaps the most dangerous threat to the Warriors this season.
I found this stat very interesting:
The Rockets are 15-0 this season when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all play. They are 15-12 in all other games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 18, 2018
Of course, that stat was from before the Rockets beat the Warriors on Saturday night, so they are now 16-0 when all three play. On Saturday, Capela was a beast on the boards, around the hoop, and basically all over the court. It made me shake my head and yell, “DAMIT WHERE IS JORDAN BELL WHEN YOU NEED HIM?!” which is a sentence I did not expect to utter before this season started.
However, after the game Capela made a very grave mistake and said this:
“I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense -- all the switches, the weak side -- and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.
”We are better than them.”
You GOTTA think the Warriors aren’t going to easily forget or forgive such a statement. If Chris Paul ever figures out how the hell to get out of the second round, and if the Rockets meet the Warriors in the WCF, some petty, fascinating magic will unfold.
We’ll see. This could be an epic Conference Finals if it were to happen.
Minnesota Timberwolves, currently 30-18
This season, the Timberwolves came out of the gate blazing. After finishing with a 31-51 record last year, the team is already one win away from equaling their win total from the 2016-17 season. The addition of Jimmy Butler has been a revelation, and youngsters Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins have more than lived up to the hype.
Jimmy Butler — reunited with his former coach Tom Thibodeau -- has brought a toughness and a veteran’s poise to the team that was sorely lacking last season. For more on that, read this fantastic feature from SB Nation’s Wolves site, Canis Hoopus.
Andrew Wiggins has hit some clutch, huge shots, and continues to grow into the player we all hoped he would become after he was drafted first overall in 2014.
Beyond the fact that the neon green jerseys featured in the above photograph are some of the most disgusting examples of clothing I’ve ever witnessed, the Timberwolves have a very bright future ahead of them. Can they dethrone the Warriors? How will they fare this year in a packed Western Conference, especially once the game slows down in the playoffs?
Time will tell, but we’ll have a much better idea of how the two teams stack up against one another after they play later this week (Thursday, 1/25, 7:30pm PST in Oakland).