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The Warriors, the NBA title, and the evidence of things not yet seen

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Golden State has nothing left to prove. Not that they can prove for another three weeks at least. 

The are the smoke monster from “Lost.” They are the basketball equivalent of a whirlwind. They rip through your team, throwing players left and right, and leaving you dizzy. They feature the best record in the , a top-five all-time mark in point differential and net points per possession. They have lost twice at home. Two times. Dos. And they will have homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs in every likely scenario. 

They are the odds-on favorites to win the NBA Finals, the only team in NBA history to lead the league in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession) and pace (number of possessions per game — how fast they play). They feature , the co-leader for MVP along with James Harden, another All-Star in , a defensive player of the year candidate in , and there isn’t a single player on the roster you can really consider to be an overall liability, given their role on this squad. 

So here’s the questioeves that Gareth Southgate is spoiled for choice in forward positions.The Three Lions boss can call on the likes of Harry Kane, Tammy Abraham, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling or Jadon Sancho for the forward positions in his starting line ups.Ashton n that’s been rattling around my head the past week. Is talking about how tough the Western Conference is doing a disservice to how good the Warriors are? Are they getting the credit they deserve?

On the one hand, this Western Conference race is so tough that even talking about it is beating a dead horse at this point. That’s how obvious it is. The San Antonio Spurs are top of the Premier League table.The Liverpool Echo reports following their win against Brighton, Liverpool equaled their longest unbeaten top-flight run of 31 games, set between May 1987 and March 1988 and will set a new record if they can repeat thishe freaking sixth seed for crying out loud. The Dallas Mavericks added Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons, and Rajon Rondo and are seventh. Over half of these players will be home after the first round: Steph Curry, Marc Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki. It’s not just that these teams are good, it’s that you know that if they hit their highest gear, if they play to their fullest potential, they are all title contenders, outside of the Pelicans or Suns. 

No one would be shocked if the Oklahoma City Thunder were the first team to go from the 8th seed to the title. They have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when healthy! Of course they’re title contenders! The Houston Rockets have an MVP-caliber player, spread the floor, have shooters, wings that can run, veterans, versatility, and a stellar defense. They have the model of what you want for a playoff team. Defense, threes, and rebounding. The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the toughest formulas to crack in the league: a dual-star frontcourt that can pass, score, and beat the stuffing out of any team inside, and this year they have the best surrounding offensive weapons they’ve ever had. 

Did I mention that San Antonio is still alive, or that their starters have the best net points per possession of any five-man unit since the All-Star break? 

But for every description of how good the West is, Golden State has an answer. The Warriors play Memphis Friday night. A win would push them to 15-4 vs. Western Conference playoff teams and mean that they’ve beaten every one of their competitors at least once. They have more 20-point wins than any other team this season, and it’s not close. The 1996 Chicago Bulls that went 72-10 had a point differential of 8.6, the Warriors’ home point differential is +15.3. (The Bulls played at a slower pace; they remain tops in home net points per possession.)

Should we really be talking about how good the West is, even with how good the West is? Is Golden State that much better? 

The caveats to any conversation about the Warriors are essentially based on stretches of the imagination, as opposed to considerable evidence. You can point to the health factor, wondering if , who has missed time in both of their playoff runs with this core, will be healthy and able to go. You can even wonder what happens when teams start roughing up Stephen Curry like the Nuggets did in 2013. Curry burned the Nuggets out of the first round, but he also hurt his ankle and wasn’t the same vs. the Spurs. 

But Curry hasn’t had a major ankle issue in three years, and Bogut has played in 56 games. If they needed Bogut to lock up their seed (they won’t, they should clinch homecourt throughout the West no later than Tuesday of next week), he could play in over 65 games this season. 

The other question mark — and this is one I legitimately have — is about their late-game execution. The Warriors have only played in 14 games that were within three points in the final two minutes, via NBA.com, the least in the league. Now in those games, they’re 10-4, the second-best mark in the league behind Atlanta. But how will they react when the games are tight all the way to the wire? 

Even that argument seems silly, though. They have one of the best offenses in the league driven by a player who can make any shot from anywhere at any time in Curry, but is also willing and ready to make the pass to the open man, and they have veteran shooters who can make those kinds of plays, and even more importantly, they can defend at a high enough level to get stops late in the game. 

At this point, on March 27th, the Warriors do indeed look invincible. 

The problem is how different the playoffs are. The environment changes completely. Teams will crowd Stephen Curry and find ways to make life hard for him, even if he succeeds more times than not. That’s what the Spurs did two years ago, that’s what the Clippers did last year. The physical pounding will be greater. And matchups are so, so important. 

The Warriors know this better than any franchise. Their 2007 team that upset the No.1 Dallas Mavericks that season were not the better squad. But they had the requisite matchups. The problem is that it’s not evident, under any circumstances, what the right set of matchups would be. The only real answer is a team that can somehow make the game ugly enough to keep Golden State’s offense from breaking out one of those 24-3 runs, who can find ways to come up with stops, and who have the personnel to attack their wings defensively. 

It’s Memphis. 

San Antonio is on the list, but that’s not matchups. That’s the fact that it’s the Spurs and they are by their very definition un-killable. But Memphis is the one team to have shown a formula to beat Golden State this year, and that was just one game. If the Warriors come out Friday and blow the doors off Memphis (and they should, the Grizzlies have struggled since the All-Star break and just got blown out by the Cavaliers at home), then that theory’s out the window, too. 

This isn’t the . Being able to matchup one night doesn’t do anything for you but get you a fourth of the way there. You have to take four games from these guys, with at least one in Oracle Arena, where they are absolute demons. 

Playing the Warriors in Oracle is like trying to climb a mountain that gradually gets steeper until it’s vertical and there are Japanese hornets flying down from the top of the mountain at you and also the mountain is on fire and you are slowly feeling the effects of food poisoning. So what’s left to question?

What I’m about to say next takes a great deal of nuance to understand. Please lower your hot take cannons. 

Charles Barkley talks about how he doesn’t believe in the Warriors because they’re a jump-shooting team. That of course is nonsense. The Spurs were a jump-shooting team the past two years. San Antonio took 193 shots from mid-range and 3-point range in last year’s finals. They took 164 in the Finals. You can win by being a jump-shooting team. That’s just the modern NBA. 

However, you do have to consider the fact that if the jump shots don’t fallproposal is for cash up front, with a further €40m in bonuses due based on appearances and success.However, the bid has been rejected as four other clubs have met Benfica’s straight €120m valuation.Manchester United and Manchester City have also , the Warriors do become a different team. In a seven-game series, a two-game cold spell from three could swing a series. If it sounds like I’m grasping for straws talking about the best shooting backcourt in NBA history going cold for a series, I am. But it’s still a straw that exists. The Warriors can attack inside off the pick and roll, and Curry has done a fantastic job of becoming a great scorer at the rim, his one weakness in year’s past. But there is at least a formula. 

The biggest thing, though is just this: we have to see it. For all the regular season success. For all the star power you have to believe in, and the fantastic coaching job we’ve seen from Steve Kerr, no matter what Draymond Green’s adjusted plus-minus is or how mind-blowing their defensive stats may be, those are all regular season accomplishments. The playoffs are a different animal, and though the Warriors may be in a league of their own, the league right below them is still extremely good. 

But that all has to wait three months. For now it’s about locking up the No.1 seed, and then getting healthy for the postseason while staying fresh. Golden State has done everything that a championship qualification committee would ask them to do. If this were the NCAA tournament, they’d be the No.1 overall seed and it wouldn’t be close. They have answered every question they can answer. The ones that remain aren’t insults to how well they’ve played, they’re a necessary function of that annoyingly true trope: “That’s why they play the games.”

There’s no evidentiary reason for us to believe any team except the Warriors will represent the West in the Finals. But we have to see it first. 

The NBA playoffs begin in 22 days. 

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