Warriors Overtake Dysfunctional Lakers as Conference Favorite: Analyst

Steph Curry Russell Westbrook

Getty Steph Curry guards Russell Westbrook during an October game.

Coming into this season, the hope around the Golden State Warriors organization was that the return of Klay Thompson would help the team move beyond a two-year playoff drought and join the Los Angeles Lakers as Western Conference contenders.

Just a little more than three weeks into the season, the situation has already flipped, with the Lakers sputtering and left wondering what changes are needed to catch up to the league-best Warriors. As one insider noted, it’s not just that the Warriors have passed the Lakers so quickly, but the level of dysfunction in Los Angeles that has made the situation so incredible.

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Lakers Falling as Warriors Rise

As Alex Didion of NBC Sports Bay Area noted, the stark contrast between the Warriors and Lakers was never more obvious than Friday night. As the Warriors were blowing out the Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls, the Lakers were losing at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves — the same Timberwolves that the Warriors had beaten by double-digits just days earlier.

After the loss, the Lakers seemed to be in disarray as Anthony Davis publicly criticized the team’s effort and said they look nothing like a title contender right now.

“We got to decide who we want to be. A championship team? That’s not us right now,” Davis said. “We’re not winning a championship the way we’re playing. We got to be better, and we got to care more for our wins at home. Wins in general. That was embarrassing.”

Didion admitted that the Lakers still have plenty of time to pull things together, especially with LeBron James leading the way, but noted that the Warriors are firmly holding down a place as conference favorites at the moment. While part of the fast start for Golden State comes in a friendly schedule, the Warriors do hold wins over both the Lakers and Clippers so far this young season.

Warriors Riding Defense, Bench to League-Best Start

During the last season, the Warriors’ hopes from game to game often fell on Curry’s shoulders, with the team riding his MVP-caliber season to a berth in the newly created play-in tournament. But the Warriors have a much more balanced attack this year, getting key contributions from the entire rotation and relying on what has become one of the league’s best defenses. As SB Nation’s Joe Viray noted, the Warriors are second in the league in offensive rating (112.8) and first in defensive rating (98.7). That leaves Golden State with the league’s best net rating, outscoring opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions.

“The recipe for a championship contender has always involved two-way competency,” Viray wrote. “A top-five offense combined with a top-five defense instantly places a team within that echelon of contenders who can make it all the way to the top. These Warriors are proving early on that something special is brewing, and that it’s no mere fluke.”

Golden State still has the opportunity to improve. Second-year center James Wiseman is expected to return to the team sometime in the coming weeks, and Thompson is on track to return from his torn Achilles at some point in mid-December.

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