The basketball world quickly declared the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets the favorites to win this year's NBA championship. With Russell Westbrook's acquisition and the promise of a healthy big three in Brooklyn, it seemed as if nobody outside of the Milwaukee Bucks had a shot at beating these two teams for the chip.
However, neither juggernaut has met expectations to start the season as the Lakers struggle to incorporate Westbrook while the Nets look very average with the absence of Kyrie Irving. On the other hand, several other teams came prepared and are impressing people early on, namely the Golden State Warriors and the Miami Heat. Both teams are off to great starts despite not being at full strength and are now showing the potential to win it all.
"I look at this team and the way they are constructed and defensively with the coaching of Eric Spoelstra putting guys in the position to lock in, the Miami Heat fully healthy are the teams to beat."
Kendrick Perkins, First Take
Miami had a stellar offseason by making the move that many NBA executives thought was the best of the summer, bringing Kyle Lowry over in a sign-and-trade. Lowry brings a floor general that can help create offense down the stretch and is Heat culture personified. Most importantly, he brings championship experience to a sorely lacking department in that team, as seen in their NBA Finals appearance in the bubble. The Heat also signed PJ Tucker, a pivotal member of the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks, to create what many believe to be one of the best defensive lineups in basketball history. The two veterans also bring leadership that compliments the leadership style of Jimmy Butler, and the effects are very noticeable to begin the season. Tyler Herro is back in a big way, and this Miami team is holding opponents under 100 points to secure their impressive wins.
Despite the talents of Lowry and Butler, the question for the Heat will be around offensive efficiency in the playoffs. They have many players that can space the floor and attack, but Miami does not possess the high-level shot-making of a Kevin Durant or Steph Curry, something that can come back to haunt them in the playoffs. In my opinion, this is why the Warriors are the team to beat over any other team in the NBA.
Brooklyn may have more stars, and LA might have more size than everyone else, but Golden State is more connected than any other team on both ends of the floor. The Dubs defend better than Brooklyn and can match their scoring, have much better shot-making ability than the Heat, and play much better team basketball than the Lakers. If the argument is that these other teams' strengths offset their weaknesses, well, the Warriors have no weaknesses right now.
As with most NBA seasons, the big question will be around health. The Warriors are expected to have Klay Thompson and James Wiseman ready for the second half of the season, which could be a problem for the rest of the league. Golden State is also finding some hidden gems in Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II, young guys filling in critical roles that were key to the Dubs' 2015 championship run. If you're a Warriors fan, you can't help but feel good about your team a few weeks into the season, and if they can nurse themselves back into full health, the league will be in trouble.
It might be too early to tell, but it has been a while since I have seen a team as connected as the Warriors this season. Usually, it takes teams time to figure things out, but the Warriors are starting the year on a string. There might be super teams in LA and Brooklyn, but I'm taking Dub Nation this year.