Even as Westbrook and Harden Dazzle, Golden State Is Still at the Top
Golden State has quietly put everything together, and they're gonna get Kevin Durant back soon.
Russell Westbrook put up another insane triple-double Wednesday night, going for 57 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in an overtime win against the Orlando Magic. It seems all but certain that Russ will finish this year as the NBA's MVP. James Harden is hot on his heels, but the steamrolling anger of Russ's game is much more compelling to the eye than Harden's slipperiness. Every night, it seems, Westbrook throws his body against five others and winds up with a statistical marvel.
If the playoffs started right now, Westbrook and Harden would be locked into a first-round showdown. The battle of the MVPs, in the first round. A bummer, but at least it'll be better than Golden State–Portland. Here's the scary thing: as good as Westbrook, Harden, and Kawhi Leonard have been, the Golden State Warriors are still the best team in the league, and they just beat the second-best team in the league last night, 110-98. Hours after Westbrook physically willed the Thunder to another late comeback win, Steph Curry and the Warriors beat Leonard's Spurs in San Antonio after falling behind 23-3 in the first seven minutes.
It's been a strange year for the Warriors. After creating the "blew a 3-1 lead" meme and in the middle of their transition from league darling to league villain, Golden State signed Kevin Durant to speed up the transition, and people could not wait to root against this team. When they did not match the historic pace they set for themselves the previous season, it was all too easy. Still, the Warriors trudged along, winning more games than anyone else. Curry went into games-long shooting slumps with the all-too-important qualifier "for him" always attached.
Coinciding with the slumps, Durant got hurt, and Golden State immediately lost consecutive games for the first time in 146 games. Curry and the rest of the Warriors eventually pulled out of it and are now firing on all cylinders, offensively and defensively. They are 9-1 in their last ten games; over the past week and a half, they've played the Thunder, the Rockets, and the Spurs on the road, and won all three. In the process, they've muzzled three MVP candidates, who would be MVP winners if not for them all doing this at the same time.
Now we are supposed to be concerned about another would-be MVP candidate the Warriors need to handle: Durant. KD, who is still Golden State's leading scorer even though he's been out a month, is going to be reevaluated over the coming week and, according to the Warriors, he could be back for the final few regular-season games. As far as narratives go, this one writes itself. Just when the team sorts itself out—a team that has lost 14 games all season, mind you—and is beginning to resemble its unstoppable self, here comes the best player on the team to ruin it all.
It will probably not be seamless; Durant is going to be rusty, and maybe it will take some time for the Warriors to remember what it was like playing with him on the court. But, counting the game he left injured against the Wizards, Golden State has lost five games in about a month without him. In the four months before Durant went down, they lost nine. Chemistry is important, sure, but they spent the season already figuring that out. It shouldn't take long to figure it out again.
As the Cavs scuffle, and as Westbrook and Harden try to keep out-amazing one another (except against the Warriors), Golden State is heating up and getting back their best player. Maybe, like giving LeBron James the MVP every year, it gets boring talking about how good the Warriors are, but they are still very much here, and their best player is going to be fresh and ready to make a deep run into the playoffs. And if he falters, they've got Steph Curry.
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