Katelyn E. Clooney
Be honest, did you really think that at this point the Miami Heat would have a better record than the Cleveland Cavaliers, or that a team from Canada, the team from Canada, would be number one in the East? The much forgotten Toronto Raptors have not only a healthy amount of passport stamps, but also a healthy amount of wins. They are currently 7-1.
While their schedule has not been the toughest thus far, they are facing a number of quality opponents within the next few weeks including three match-ups with the Cavs, and they have the chance to make some noise.
Meanwhile, there is plenty of noise being made in the West.
One team that hasn’t had an easy schedule early on is the Golden State Warriors. After facing the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets in a week’s span, the Dubs improved to 5-0.
However, the Warriors are not invincible. After their hot start, the Warriors fell to the Phoenix Suns, 107-95, and followed-up with a 113-100 loss to the Spurs on Tuesday night.
So, was this just a season-opening hot streak to avenge for last year’s early playoff exit, or are the Warriors the real deal?
Golden State is led by guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in arguably the best backcourt in the league. Curry is second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 26 points per game, while Thompson ranks sixth, putting up 24.7 per contest.
Having just two members on the team accounting for over 50 points per game puts Golden State in an excellent position. The key is taking advantage of it.
After competitive first halves in both of their losses, the Warriors lost the second halves by a combined 123-93, including a fourth quarter against Phoenix, in which they allowed 36 points, while scoring only 16.
With big man David Lee out for another week with an aggravated hamstring, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green will have to exhibit consistency on the defensive end.
On the other hand,, what will be key for the Warriors is turnovers. As a team, they lead the NBA with 21.9 turnovers per game. While leading the league in steals, Curry is also the league-leader in turnovers; he accounts for almost five of the team’s 20-plus per. During the game against the Suns, which Thompson sat due to injury, Curry achieved an unwanted “triple-double,” with 28 points, 10 assists and 10 turnovers. Having the duo of Curry and Thompson, along with Harrison Barnes, on the court together, no doubt, creates a dilemma for defenses. With an average age of 24, the trio will be challenging defenders for years to come. They just have to be sure not to be their own worst enemy.
Sitting atop the West is a team that formerly called Canada home, the Memphis Grizzlies. Similiar to the Raps, the Grizzlies are 7-1, with their sole loss coming by one point at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.
For anyone who has been following the NBA in recent years, this should not come as a surprise.
After receiving much criticism following the dealing of Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies went on to face the Spurs in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
On Jan 6, 2014, they acquired Courtney Lee and finished the regular season on a 26-12 run. During the 2014 playoffs, they were up 3-2 in a first round playoff series against Oklahoma City, whom they had beaten in a five-game series the previous year. After losing game six and ultimately seven, the Grizzlies began their off-season.
What some don’t remember is that the Grizzlies were without Zach Randolph for that elimination game (he was serving a one-game suspension after an ill-advised elbow). Randolph is not only productive on both ends of the court, but perhaps the team’s biggest locker room presence.
Indeed, the Grizzlies’ self-advertised “grit n’ grind” and flawless chemistry is what propels this team.
With point guard Mike Conley continuing to improve and become more aggressive in the paint, as well as late in games, the Grizzlies are not to be taken lightly. Like the Warriors, their key will be continuing to grind. They have had double digit leads in all of their games but have won by an average of 6.3 points. They were leading by 17 late into their five-point win over the Lakers.
Meanwhile the defending champion San Antonio Spurs are 4-3. They are just above .500, and Coach Greg Popovich has already begun resting players.
However, it’s how a team plays in May, not November, that determines whether or not they play in June. Of course, playing in May is not guaranteed either.
With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook among the plethora of injuries for Oklahoma City, there is a wide-open race for the top spots in the loaded Western Conference.
The Spurs will be alright. Fourteen out of fifteen players from last year’s championship team are once again calling San Antonio home, even if the best ones are sometimes watching from the sidelines. They are a seasoned, well-coached team, and they have something that the Thunder do not: depth. Remember, it was not Duncan, Ginobili or Parker who won Finals MVP last year, it was Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard, who recently stated he plans to remain with the Spurs for the remainder of his career, is ever improving, and it looks like Danny Green has finally found his place in the league as well. As much as casual fans view San Antonio as a “bunch of old guys,” they are rich in young talent and draft extremely well (I have yet to mention the injured Patty Mills). They are great on the fast break, which ultimately is what pushed them past Miami last year, and with the return of Mills, they should be even better in transition.
That’s not to say that Oklahoma City is a bad team. Durant and Westbrook should both be back before the ball drops, fireworks spark, and we all exclaim, “Happy New Year!” Even if the duo is a little rusty, they will ultimately secure a playoff spot. The key will be which spot. Remember, the NBA is all about matchups.
I would love to see a team like Memphis return to the WCF’s, or a team like Golden State. They each share something in common with San Antonio. While Memphis relies on chemistry and fundamentals, Golden State relies on young talent.
Ultimately, the perfectly meshed combination of the two will prevail as I am standing by my preseason prediction of a Spurs repeat.
However, don’t count the Thunder out yet, or the Grizzlies, or the Warriors, or the Rockets, or the Blazers, or the Mavericks. It is already getting wild in the West, and remember, it is only November.