Based on what we’re seeing in the Western NBA conference, the San Antonio Spurs aren’t that far away from toppling the dictatorship of the Golden State Warriors. The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t look like they’re giving up on the possibility of finishing first in the Western conference.
Right now, the main threat for the Warriors, who have lost two of their last three which means four losses this season, are the Spurs. The Spurs are coming off a a 112-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks, improving to 24-0 at home and have won 11 in a row, or 18 of their last 19 if you prefer bigger numbers to impress you. They’re only 1.5 games behind the defending NBA champions, and actually have a better scoring differential than the Warriors, who even in their wins recently haven’t looked their best.
The top 3 teams in point differential so far this season are the Warriors, Spurs and… not the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are hosting the Warriors on Monday night, but the Thunder, coming off a big 99-74 win over the Miami Heat, their fourth in a row. They’ve won their last three games by 19 points or more, doing quite well on the three-game homestand, before heading back on the road again, starting with the pretty hot Denver Nuggets.
But the Thunder, for all of their impressive wins from time to time and offensive explosiveness, are an afterthought compared to the Spurs, not to mention their 12 losses. Their offensive and defensive issues creep up from time to time, be it by the usual return to too many isolations and players being forgotten, Russell Westbrook losing it in crunch time or the weaknesses of him, Enes Kanter and also Kevin Durant defensively, which for the two big stars is mostly about focus and defensive discipline.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are the best defensive team in the NBA, giving up just only 93.3 points per 100 possessions while posting the best net rating in the NBA right now, much better than the Warriors. They don’t do it with a Stephen Curry who is unstoppable even when the Warriors are playing badly. Kawhi Leonard might be their MVP and the best defensive player in the NBA right now, but like the Warriors at their best, it’s an almost flawless system right now, with less flash and more efficiency.
While the Warriors are trying to get back on the pace that will put them not just on top of the NBA but also in the NBA record books, aiming to best that 72-10 the Chicago Bulls had in 1995-1996, there’s competition that’s crept up behind them. The Spurs look simply better than them right now, but it is just the regular season. The Thunder, also still waiting for their first game this season against the Warriors to try and see how the balance of power works out right now, need something a little bigger to happen in order to come out first in this regular season race. In the playoffs, it’s about different things.