Since the opening tip of week 1, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors have continued to reigne supreme over all in a charge towards the championship that some are already claiming to be unstoppable. To suggest that the championship is a foregone conclusion is ill advised, particuarly as the Warriors have shown they are not untouchable, after their defeat to Milwaukee to end a 24-0 winning run. Furthermore, there are teams in the shadow of the Warriors who may end up stepping out of it before the culmination of the season in June.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are one of only three teams who boast a record containing less than 10 losses. At 27-6, they are the nearest challengers to the Warriors, and are not intimidated by the big time games facing them. Since the beginning of December, they have won 15 of their 17 matches, in 14 of which they have scored in excess of 100 points. The Spurs know how to win, and they win big with it. What may be the Spurs’ undoing is there apparent reliance on Kawhi Leonard. Whilst most of the squad racks up around 20-25 minutes on court per game, Leonard is on there approximately 33.5 minutes of a regular game. Keeping him fresh is vital if they are to go all the way this season, and giving more depth to the Spurs roster would not hurt their chances of glory either. Evidently the reliance on Leonard indicates a lack of faith in the alternatives, something coach Gregg Popovich needs to address one way or another. Of the 3, they seem the most likely to topple the Warriors.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The best thing about Thunder’s squad so far is their strength in depth. Having seen them oust Denver the other week, every player on court continued something. Even with four players finishing up as DNP marked at the end, the Thunder just appeared to up their game to new levels after halftime, running riot in the third and fourth quarters. The talent of Kevin Durant is unquestionable. With 26 points per game on average, 4 assists, and an MVP title to his CV, he looks every inch the man to lead his team to the championship. But it is the man one could describe as being in Durant’s shadow that could cause other teams serious problems. Russell Westbrook, a mere dwarf at 6’3 has been averaging nearly as many points per game as Durant (25.6 to KD’s 26.6), but with a higher contribution of assists (9.3, #3 in the rankings) and has the highest number of steals in the league. It’s not beyond the imagination to consider Westbrook an MVP dark horse, Such contributions across the court, and with backup at centre from big Serge Ibaka, the Thunder could push the Warriors all the way this year.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James. Therein lies the Cav’s biggest weapon. Scoring points at a rate of over 25 per game, he has hauled his hometown team up to the peak of the Eastern Conference. Backed up by fellow high scorer Kevin Love, also the #6 ranking rebound star, their point scoring consistency is key. With a win/loss record of 21-9 the numbers look good for James and co. However, 5 of their 9 defeats came in December, including a big score defeat against the much unfancied Portland Timbers, as well as slip ups against New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards, which isn’t cause for alarm just yet. As much as James may take the plaudits at the offensive end of the court, they have problems at centre. Timofey Mozgov’s stats don’t particuarly inspire confidence, with just 0.8 blocks per game (most high end average tend to be between 1.4 and 1.7 per game) and his minutes per game have dropped as continues to inspire little confidence. A conundrum such as this could prove fatal for the Cav’s this year, which is why they are the outsiders to take the Championship home.