The Golden State Warriors’ path is already more difficult

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 18: Kevin Durant
OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 18: Kevin Durant /

The Golden State Warriors have made three straight NBA Finals and getting to a fourth one will be their toughest challenge yet with an improved West.

The Golden State Warriors plowed through the Western Conference during the 2017 Finals. It was a new level of dominance that, even after reaching the NBA Finals in the two prior seasons, they hadn’t reached before. They were a perfect 12-0 as the advanced to the Finals.

The West is the superior conference. It has been for over a decade now. The best players and teams happen to play on that side of the country.

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Still, the Warriors have been able to defeat the best the West has been able to throw at them. They beat the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies once. They defeated Anthony Davis one time. They’ve beaten James Harden twice. They outlasted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The 2018 version of the Western Conference will be the toughest path to the Finals yet for Golden State. Contrary to popular belief, they didn’t ruin the NBA. They were great for it because they forced General Managers to actually get to work. They have and it’s been really fun.

So now Chris Paul will team up with Harden in Houston. Jimmy Butler joins Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota. And, in a sudden and surprising move, the Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

While none of those teams are better than Golden State at full-strength, they’re still really good. George with Westbrook forms a really interesting and talented tandem. And they’re definitely better than the Thunder without George.

Just like how the Rockets (who gave up a lot in their trade) are better with Paul than without him. Just like how the Wolves are better with Butler than without him. And just like how the Los Angeles Clippers, with Blake Griffin and no Paul, could potentially be better.

Even the Sacramento Kings have improved after having what should be a pretty successful Draft Night. Everyone is getting better, unlike in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ stronghold on the East got better without needing to make a move.

The Warriors should still make it out of the West. Of course, it’s really early to say that. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the team with two former MVPs, four All-Stars, and two of the last three championships.

But their path is definitely more difficult. Every series in the postseason is going to be a battle and a grind. It’s possible that the eighth seed features one or two more All-Star caliber players.

Golden State is still putting together its roster, just like everyone else. Free agency just started so things can look different in a hurry. As of right now, no one has done anything to completely close the gap on the Warriors–they’re still the best team by quite a bit.

Still, they’re making moves. And getting through the West will be more difficult as teams are trying to load up to take down the champs.