Curry coming on strong for Warriors
The Atlanta Hawks' recent dominance has rightly earned the attention of the public, but even their 27-2 stretch isn't enough to overtake that team in the Bay Area for the NBA's best record.
The Golden State Warriors are running away and hiding from the rest of the deep and treacherous Western Conference, on a pace that would net them the NBA's best 82-game record since the record-setting 1996 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 games.
It likely won't happen, as their 33-6 record doesn't come with a Superman like Michael Jordan on the roster to help them through the dead nights on the schedule. But they do have arguably the league's MVP to this point and, from this vantage point, the NBA's best backcourt giving opposing defenses nightmares every night.
Warriors guard Steph Curry puts fear into game plans, accomplishing his impressive production of 23.2 points, 8.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in just 32.9 minutes a night. In a league full of point guards — perhaps the deepest it's ever been — Curry has risen to the top of the list in a nontraditional way.
Not just a deadly shooter, he's an adept playmaker who isn't just hunting for his own shot, having evolved from the days when scouts thought he was too light and brittle to play the position.
"I try to get better every year. It's part of winning," said Curry during a visit to Auburn Hills earlier in the season, after a 104-93 Warriors win over the Pistons. "The accolades will come out of it. I'm not focused on what it takes to win MVP. It's just, we win games, I play well, hopefully good things will happen."
It's amazing that despite coming out of the gate firing on all cylinders as a rookie in 2009-10, he had to endure questions about his long-term health after nagging ankle injuries hindered his participation in the 2011-12 season to 23 out of 66 games.
It limited his earnings potential as a restricted free agent that next season. He signed for a relatively bargain-basement $44 million over four years — an amount that would be half of what he could command if he hit the market now.
"I knew if I was healthy I could do some good things. Hopefully that wouldn't limit my progression as a player," Curry said. "I had a good three years of staying healthy. I have great teammates around me; they put a good team in place to be recognized and play meaningful games.
"It's a good time, I'm trying to take full advantage of it. Hopefully at the end of the season, we have a lot to be proud of as individuals and as a team."
The Warriors have drafted well, picking up Michigan State product Draymond Green in the second round in 2012, signing big man Mareese Speights and swingman Andre Iguodala in summer 2013 — helping absorb the injury-induced absences of David Lee and Andrew Bogut — but Curry's counterpart on the floor is the other biggest reason for their success.
And although they couldn't get a hometown discount on Klay Thompson, they aren't regretting signing him to a max deal recently.
"Just how we're playing this year, we're so unselfish," Thompson said. "We're leading the league in field-goal percentage. That's just a testament to our commitment to moving the ball, not letting it stick too much."
Thompson is second in scoring at 21.7 points per game, and actually shoots better from three than Curry at 44.6 percent, but his value on the defensive end should make him an All-Star. After his agent boasted Thompson is the best two-way shooting guard in basketball, he's proving it night after night.
"Ha! That's a good question. Only time will tell," said Thompson to the query if he's the NBA's best shooting guard. "I think I'm one of the best. There's still a lot of room to grow. I just want to continue to improve."
The Warriors are actually a better defensive team than an offensive team, leading the league in field-goal defense (42.1 percent) and point differential — and Curry believes his chemistry with Thompson, two players who are growing individually within the team construct without stepping on each other's toes, is a chief reason why.
"We do different things on the floor and we complement each other," Curry said. "Obviously that's something they saw when they drafted him. We shoot the ball a lot (laughs) and shoot it well. We try to work off each other, we got better as we got along.
"Now we have three more years at least. I'm just excited. He's a guy that's fun to play with. He makes me better, I try to make him better. We take advantage of the talent we're blessed with, so hopefully we can lead the team from that backcourt standpoint."
It's a bit of a surprise to see the Oklahoma City Thunder on the outside looking in, currently 20-20 but 31/2 games back of the Phoenix Suns, who hold the eighth spot in the West. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have both missed considerable time with injuries, and with the clock ticking on Durant's contract, the Thunder are desperate to return to favored status.
They appeared ready to pull the trigger on a deal for Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez, right after trading for Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters.
But is it too late?
Westbrook was annoyed with the media last week, days after the suggestion that Thunder coach Scott Brooks would be on the hot seat if things didn't turn around soon. Durant will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, and it's believed Durant will take a hard look at returning home, to The District, to play with the Washington Wizards.
One has to wonder if the Thunder organization and ownership overplayed their hand when it came to Durant in the belief he was the anti-LeBron James, willing to stay around forever so he wouldn't be a villain.
The Thunder avoided the luxury tax for years, trading away players like James Harden as opposed to paying him — as well as standing pat with Brooks despite playoff failures. Missing the playoffs altogether would not bode well for the long-term futures of Durant and Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
Falls from grace
Not a great year for NBA traditional royalty, as many of the league's marquee franchises are taking up the rear in terms of record. The Los Angeles Lakers have turned into a road show for all the wrong reasons, with Kobe Bryant deciding on a nightly basis whether to sit or play for a miserable team going nowhere, hoping for the lottery and free agency.
The Boston Celtics have stockpiled draft picks and cap space for the next few seasons, hoping for a trade in the offseason that will propel them back to the top of the East. But for now, it's ugly, as they'll likely plummet to the bottom of the East, unlikely to best their 13-26 record.
But nothing tops the misery of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson can't fix the mess fast enough, as they've won just three games in the last 10 weeks. Carmelo Anthony has his millions to keep him warm at night, and if there's hope for the future, that's the only thing he's holding onto, because 6-36 certainly isn't it.