If the upcoming 2106-17 NBA season was a superhero movie, there is no doubt the Golden State Warriors would be cast as the villain.
The Warriors acquired Kevin Durant in free agency this offseason and drastically changed the NBA landscape. The inspiring upstart team is now America’s Most Wanted.
Hate them or love them the Warriors will be pretty darn good this season. In fact, they’re so good that the NBA analysts and experts have predicted them to easily win the NBA title.
The King in Cleveland and the upstart squad in Beantown will have something to say about it though. There are still respectable foes out West that can challenge the Warriors as well. The Los Angeles Clippers come in to every season with high hopes as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are healthy again. Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs are also in the mix every year.
The Warriors are looking more and more like the Monstars with every preseason game. However, the rest of the league is far from the Tune Squad.
Here are ten teams that could challenge them should the Warriors experience a similar second half collapse.
The expression, “Watch the throne,” comes to mind here. LeBron James led a historic comeback last season and delivered the city of Cleveland its first title since 1964. The trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love gets more cohesive by the day and that is dangerous for every other team in the league. In the preseason finale James put on an MVP-caliber display and put the league on notice. With all the pressure on Golden State to win the title, a loose Cleveland Cavaliers team has the inside track on knocking off the Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers
Lob City might pose the biggest threat for the Warriors in the Western Conference. Floor general Chris Paul has a string of bad luck in the playoffs, but if the Clippers can stay healthy for an entire year they are a scary team. Blake Griffin’s evolution could see him sneak in the MVP discussion this season, and Deandre Jordan blocks shots for breakfast, rebounds for lunch and dunks for dinner. Head Coach Doc Rivers provides a championship mentality from the bench as well so they will be poised to play for a title this year.
San Antonio Spurs
Like a gnat at a picnic, the San Antonio Spurs are always there. An irritating style of play also helps. The Spurs’ ball movement is uncanny, and their suffocating defense usually frustrates teams. With the retirement of Tim Duncan everyone is expecting the Spurs to take a step back, but there is a reason Greg Popovich is going to the Hall of Fame as well. Pau Gasol was acquired in the offseason so their offense will be just fine. Lamarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard will also need to prove they’re worthy of the label of franchise cornerstones this season.
New York Knicks
Whether they’re ready or not, the New York Knicks have lofty expectations this season. Carmelo Anthony’s Knick career has seen a lot of scoring, but overall has been underwhelming. Offseason acquisitions Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah need to be ready for the bright lights. They were supposed to bring Chicago a title but team chemistry and injuries derailed that plan. Kristaps Porzingis is a star in the making and should relieve some of the pressure off of the veterans.
The core of talent in the North is also planning on spoiling the Warriors Championship parade. All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan are a dynamic backcourt duo that is one of the best in the league. DeMarre Carroll is a lockdown defender on the wing that will be tasked with shutting down Kevin Durant when the two teams match up. Big man Jonas Valanciunas is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams as well. The Raptors have all the pieces but will have to get past the roadblock in the East named King James.
Are the Boston Celtics ready to return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference? All-stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford will be the alpha-males for the Celtics and they are surrounded by a slew of young studs. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are devastating on defense. If rookie Jaylen Brown can realize his potential the future could be now for the Celtics. Head Coach Brad Stevens has a rare basketball mind as well, and pulled all the right strings since getting the job.
Oklahoma City Thunder
And the award for most awkward game of the season goes to…the first time Kevin Durant returns to Oklahoma City. Once revered by the city and team that drafted KD will now be a pariah in OKC. The fan base was crushed by his decision, and his teammate and right hand man Russell Westbrook never saw it coming. Westbrook will be playing like a man possessed for the entire season. That could be a blessing or a curse for the Thunder. If it works out, Westbrook will be the league MVP and he will single handedly destroy the Warriors championship plans. If it backfires the Thunder could be struggling to make the playoffs. NBA fans can’t wait to see how this story unfolds throughout the season.
Another team that could challenge the Warriors comes from the awkward reunion variety. The Dallas Mavericks were able to lure Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut from the Warriors in the offseason. Although they weren’t the main guys, they were crucial role players that enabled the Warriors to win a championship two seasons ago. With future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and combo guard Wesley Matthews, the Mavs have assembled a squad with some potential to make a deep playoff run.
Portland Trail Blazers
The team on everyone’s radar this season is the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard’s progression has him ready to evolve into a perennial All-Star. He is surrounded by other talented guards, a key aspect of any team that hopes to knock off the Warriors. Last season, Lillard dropped a career-high 51 points against the Warriors, handing them one of their nine losses in the regular season. Evan Turner, a playmaking combo guard, was also added in free agency and their affinity to take down the super team in Golden State is topped by only a few teams. Look out for the Blazers.
When teams try to take beat the Warriors they fall in to the trap of playing an up tempo fast-break style that plays right in to what the Warriors try and do. Not Memphis. Their “Grit and Grind” slogan has been embraced by the city, and if ugly basketball is winning basketball they’ll take it. Mike Conley also got a nice pay raise to lead the Memphis Grizzlies back to championship contention this season. Surrounded by Chandler Parsons, Zac Randolph and Marc Gasol the Grizzlies have the pieces to give Golden State problems.
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