It’s still the Warriors as the team to catch out West
For Golden State, 73 is irrelevant. Only one number matters, and it’s 16.
The Warriors’ chase of being the greatest team in NBA history last season fell short in a big way, when the team that posted the best regular-season record of all time blew a 3-1 lead in the finals and lost the title to Cleveland.
So entering this season, any talk of setting another win record — even after adding Kevin Durant — would be foolish. The only thing the Warriors are interested in is getting the 16 postseason wins that would secure a second championship in three years, and they’ll again be the consensus pick to get out of the Western Conference for the third straight season.
“They’re as good as it gets in the NBA,” said new Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton, who most recently was a Warriors assistant.
Much of the look of the West has changed. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett — all champions, all future Hall of Famers — are now all retired as well. And there’s new coaches in Sacramento (Dave Joerger), Memphis (David Fizdale), Minnesota (Tom Thibodeau) and Houston (Mike D’Antoni), along with Walton taking over for the Lakers.
But the targets in the West, they remain the same. It’s still the Warriors, then San Antonio, and from there it might be anyone’s guess.
A look at the West, in predicted order of finish:
1. Golden State — Warriors need 60 victories this season to be NBA’s first club to win 200 in a three-year stretch since Chicago (1996-98).
2. San Antonio — Until proven otherwise, the Spurs should be considered a very viable contender. They’ll pace themselves until playoff time.
3. Utah — Yes, the Jazz won’t have Gordon Hayward for a while. No, this isn’t a stretch, not with the highly capable Quin Snyder in charge.
4. L.A. Clippers — The Clippers know this has to be the season. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan still should create a lot of fear.
5. Portland — Surprises last season, the Blazers won’t surprise anyone this time around. All-Star snub victim Damian Lillard is among the elite.
6. Oklahoma City — You may have heard, the Thunder lost Durant to Golden State. We’ll see what a motivated Russell Westbrook does.
7. Minnesota — It’s time for the Timberwolves to break through, and with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins the best is still yet to come.
8. Memphis — New coach Fizdale gets $153 million man Mike Conley to run his offense, which is quite the perk for any rookie head coach.
IN THE MIX
9. Dallas — Dirk Nowitzki is 38 years old and still averages 18 points per game. Big question: How will Harrison Barnes handle being a max guy?
10. Houston — Questions about defense are the only reason why the Rockets aren’t higher. If — if — what D’Antoni does works, look out.
11. New Orleans — The Pelicans are already ailing, and the season hasn’t even started. Keeping Anthony Davis on the floor is an absolute must.
FACING LONG ODDS
12. Sacramento — The Kings’ new arena is fantastic and DeMarcus Cousins is a superstar, though his new love for 3s actually helps defenses.
13. L.A. Lakers — The last season in which the Lakers were without Bryant was 1995-96. How long ago? Magic Johnson was on that team.
14. Denver — Danilo Gallinari is 28, and he’s one of the oldest guys on this rebuilding team. Rookie Jamal Murray might be a big hit in Denver.
15. Phoenix — The Suns haven’t been to the playoffs in six seasons, and that streak seems likely to reach seven. Earl Watson has a tough job.
WHAT TO KNOW
SPURS FOR 50: The Spurs won 50 games in each of Duncan’s seasons (excluding the 1998-99 season, which was only 50 games). Duncan may be retired, but the Spurs still seem like a lock to not just win 50 again but also reach the playoffs for what would be the 20th straight season and the 27th time in the last 28 years.
BEAT THE EAST: The elite teams in the West feasted on Eastern Conference teams last season. Oklahoma City went 18-12 against the East, the Clippers went 22-8, the Spurs were 24-6 and the Warriors were 27-3 — that is, until the NBA Finals, when they went 3-4 against Cleveland.
STRANGE SEASON: Houston got in the playoffs last year at 41-41. Don’t expect that to happen again. The last time a .500 record was good enough for a spot on the West postseason bracket was 1999. Since then, there’s been 14 seasons in which a team went .500 or better and still missed the West playoffs.
YOUNG MVPs: There’s been plenty of instances of two former MVPs being on the same team, but the pairing of Durant and Stephen Curry in Golden State marks the first time it’s happened when both players were under 30. It’s also the first time back-to-back MVPs (Durant in 2013-14, Curry in 2014-15) became teammates since Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon did in Houston in the mid-1990s.
POWER PACKED: Over the last five seasons, the teams with the most regular-season wins, in order, are San Antonio (292), Oklahoma City (266), the Clippers (262) and Golden State (261) — all West teams. Eastern Conference club Miami is No. 5 in that span, with 251.
Follow AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds