After winning back-to-back NBA championships, the Golden State Warriors didn’t only retain their core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, but they also managed to upgrade their roster with the acquisition of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins in the recent free agency. Despite the improvements made by other NBA teams, the Warriors remain the favorite to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the 2018-19 NBA season.
However, Western Conference powerhouse teams like the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Oklahoma City Thunder are unlikely to let the Warriors take an easy road to their fifth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals. The Rockets, who almost eliminated the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, have started to find their way back to the winning column despite losing Chris Paul to an injury. And the Nikola Jokic-led Nuggets remain on top of the division with a 26-11 record.
Of all the teams who are eyeing to become the new ruler of the Western Conference, Marc Stein of the New York Times believes that the Thunder are the “foremost threat” to the Warriors’ throne.
“Houston has risen from a nightmarish 14th in the West to No. 5 entering 2019, but the Rockets have essentially needed James Harden to score 40 points a night to do so. Can Harden realistically keep that up and still have something left in May and June? With Utah still falling well short of preseason expectations and Denver difficult to endorse as a credible contender considering that these Nuggets have no playoff experience, Oklahoma City looms as the West resident with the best shot at derailing the Warriors from a fifth consecutive trip to the N.B.A. finals.”
New year, new shoe for Russell Westbrook ->> https://t.co/SIPH5FukDw
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) January 2, 2019
The Thunder have surprisingly performed better after they decided to part ways with Carmelo Anthony in the recent offseason. Paul George is playing the best season in his NBA career, averaging 27.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.2 steals on 45.2 percent shooting from the field, and 38.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. In their second year of playing together, George and Russell Westbrook have started to build good chemistry and have turned the Thunder into a legitimate title contender in the deep Western Conference.
As of now, the Thunder are the second-best team in the Western Conference with a 25-13 record and currently rank No. 1 in NBA’s defensive efficiency, only allowing 99.7 points per 100 possessions, per ESPN. It remains unknown if the Thunder really have what it takes to beat the Warriors in a best-of-seven series, but this could be the first time that Oklahoma City is considered as a legitimate threat since Kevin Durant left in the summer of 2016.