Warriors face new-look opposition in quest to repeat

(Reuters) – The Golden State Warriors begin the 2017-18 NBA season this week so dominant that a number of teams pulled off blockbuster deals in hopes of denying them a third title in four years.

The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers are among the teams who made offseason deals for All-Star players with the hope of unseating a Warriors club many feel are too good not to win it all.

Golden State return largely the same squad that enjoyed a remarkable 16-1 romp through the playoffs last season but now face a number of new-look challengers.

“The biggest challenge is complacency,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told The Athletic. “We’ve been to the Finals three years in a row. And for our core group, I guess that would be four or five guys … that’s a long haul and you just cannot lose your edge in this league.”

Kevin Durant

Since the Warriors beat Cleveland last June in the Finals, a record seven NBA players who were selected as All-Stars in 2017 have switched teams in the hopes of unseating Golden State.

The Warriors will get their first look at one of those re-tooled challengers today when they host Houston in one of the two games scheduled for the opening night of the season.

“We’re chasing maybe one of the best teams ever in the history of basketball,” Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, whose team acquired nine-times All-Star point guard Chris Paul in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, told USA Today.

“Nobody wants to go into the season going, ‘OK, if you have a really good year, you can come in third.’ You just don’t want to do that, so we’re all in.”

Stephen Curry

Paul and James Harden, who last season finished runner-up in MVP voting, give the Rockets two of the league’s elite floor generals and make Houston perhaps the greatest threat to unseat the Warriors in the Western Conference.

But Golden State, already powered by Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, have added depth to a roster that many already viewed as one of the greatest NBA teams ever assembled.

Health permitting, anything short of a trip to next June’s NBA Finals for the Warriors would be considered a failure of epic proportion.

DOMINANT CAVS

The Cavaliers, whose hopes of a title begin and end with four-times league MVP LeBron James, are coming off a tumultuous offseason during which they shipped Kyrie Irving to Boston after the All-Star guard requested a trade.

Cleveland will now hope Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics’ top scorer last season, is his same old self when he returns in January from a hip injury while counting on James’ friend Dwyane Wade and former MVP Derrick Rose to turn back the clock.

The Cavs, who have dominated the Eastern Conference for three straight seasons and despite some defensive issues, appear well-placed to make another deep playoff run.

The season should also see James, who turns 33 in December, become the seventh and youngest player to score 30,000 career points, a feat he is expected to reach shortly after the midway mark of the Cavs campaign.

Boston overhauled their roster after a season in which they finished first in the Eastern Conference but were demoralized by Cleveland in the penultimate round of the playoffs.

Among their many moves, the Celtics acquired Gordon Hayward in free agency and executed a blockbuster trade for Irving to remain one of the East’s elite contenders.

The Oklahoma City Thunder became a major player once again as they bolstered their attack by landing a pair of high-wattage quick fixes in All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

The talented forwards should allow for a more balanced attack from a Thunder team led by Russell Westbrook, who is coming off an MVP campaign in which he became the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double for an entire season.

“We definitely felt great about what we had before we traded for Carmelo, but adding him takes this team to another level,” said George. “In my eyes, (he’s) one of the best true scorers and players that this league has ever seen.”

The San Antonio Spurs, whose postseason run fizzled after Kawhi Leonard went down with a sprained ankle in the Western Conference final, are coming off their 20th consecutive year in the playoffs and 18th straight season of winning 50 games and neither streak appears set to end.

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