With a 33-8 record through their first 41 games, the Warriors are well on their way to becoming just the second team in NBA history to win at least 60 games in four consecutive seasons.
Golden State has navigated through rough waters without Steph Curry and Kevin Durant at various points during the first half of the year, but both players will be motivated to play throughout the second half as the Warriors work toward a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
What are the most important stories to follow during the second half? Let’s dive in.
1. The dynasty
The Warriors are undoubtedly one of the greatest teams of all time, having won two of the past three NBA Finals while simultaneously changing the nature of basketball. But is Golden State really a dynasty unless it wins back-to-back titles? If the Warriors don’t take care of business this summer, detractors will use the franchise’s inability to defend its titles as the rallying cry behind criticism and negativity. Golden State could always come back and win championships in 2019 and 2020, but Steph Curry and Kevin Durant will be older by then and the team’s core won’t be nearly as explosive. The 2018 NBA Finals are undoubtedly the best opportunity for the Warriors to claim their place in history as a dynasty, as the team’s stars are in the prime of their careers and the roster is built out from top to bottom.
2 MVP/DPOY chatter
Curry has missed 13 of the team’s first 41 games, but the Warriors’ point guard is still creeping into MVP discussions and his candidacy should only continue to grow if Curry is able to stay healthy in the season’s final four months. Though LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden might have stronger resumes at the season’s midpoint, Curry has been the league’s most electrifying player since returning from a three-week absence and is showing no signs of slowing down soon. The two-time MVP can score at will and pad his stats whenever he chooses, but perhaps the best representation of his value are the difference between Warriors’ offensive stats with Curry on the floor, and the Warriors’ numbers when Curry sits.
While their sharpshooter chases history, Durant has a legitimate opportunity to unseat Draymond Green as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Despite missing eight games, Durant leads the league in blocks per game and total blocks as he’s joined the ranks of the truly elite rim protectors. Green is likely still a more polished all-around defender, but Durant’s counting numbers will matter to voters who are witnessing the transformation of one of the NBA’s best players in real time.
3.The continued emergence of Jordan Bell
The 38th overall pick in the NBA Draft this summer, Bell has risen in the Warriors’ rotation faster than even the most optimistic Golden State fans could have imagined. The rookie center is a threat to block any shot he’s tracking, and he’s also an excellent passer on offense.
Bell could reach another benchmark in his NBA career on January 15 when the Warriors visit the Cavaliers in Cleveland. The rookie started on Christmas Day against Cleveland, but head coach Steve Kerr insisted he didn’t want Zaza Pachulia running around and chasing Kevin Love in his first game back. Will Kerr start a healthy Bell over Pachulia? It would go a long way toward affirming Bell’s status as the Warriors’ center of the future, and could foreshadow the way Golden State plans to defend Cleveland if the two sides meet in the Finals for a fourth straight year.
4. Trade talk
Warriors’ general manager Bob Myers always has an eye on the future, and when Golden State looks down the road, it sees the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics in its immediate path. Other teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves could also factor into how the Warriors perceive their current advantages, but Myers is focused on playing the percentages and determining which teams present the greatest threat to dethroning his own team.
As a result of that, Myers is looking at his current roster makeup and determining how it shapes up for playoff series against teams like the Rockets and Cavaliers, while deciding what type of players Kerr needs to be most effective. Are JaVale McGee and Kevon Looney dispensable now that the Warriors have Bell, or does Golden State still need a true center to counter bigger, more physical teams in the post? Ultimately, the Warriors might be best served by adding a guard to their roster and shipping off McGee in a trade, but Myers has a way of surprising everyone and could make a bigger splash no one is expecting.
5. The No. 1 seed
It’s not a part of any serious conversations right now, and it may not even be a factor for this year’s Warriors team, but Golden State could face a stiff challenge from Houston down the stretch for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Oracle Arena hasn’t provided the Warriors with the same type of advantage this season that it has during the previous three campaigns, but that could very well change come playoff time when home court becomes a more distinct factor. While Golden State certainly has the talent to win on the road and cruise to another NBA Finals trip, finishing the year without the No. 1 seed would be a considerable disappointment.
While the Warriors have a 4.0 game lead built up over the Rockets already, they’ll also want to keep an eye on the Boston Celtics, who at 33-10, could steal home court away from Golden State for a Finals series should it come to that.