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Why the Warriors are Still the Favorite in the West

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Golden State Warriors were the clear favorite to win the West for the majority of the season. While the West was loaded, the Warriors’ incredible regular season gave them an 11-game lead over the next closest team in the West and a seven-game lead over the top team in the East. They also finished with an average point differential of 10.1.

The Warriors followed up their historic regular-season success by winning the championship, and they’ve brought back most of that team to try and do it again in the 2015-2016 season. Will that be enough to win the West once again? Or will another team take their place at the top?

The big change the Warriors made this offseason was trading David Lee to the Celtics for Gerald Wallace, who was then traded to the Sixers for Jason Thompson. These moves will help ease Golden State’s luxury tax burden for this upcoming season and make it easier for ownership to write the checks necessary to keep their young players under contract.

Lee is the only regular rotation player from the Warriors’ championship roster not still on the team (you could argue Justin Holiday was part of the rotation). With the emergence of Draymond Green, Lee was relegated to the bench when he returned from injury, something he was overpaid to be doing.

While Lee may be better than Thompson, we have to remember that the NBA is a business, and paying $6 million for a backup power forward is more palatable than $15 million. Thompson will look to replace some of the production Lee gave the Warriors last season, and there really shouldn’t be much of a drop-off considering Lee basically fell out of the rotation by the end of the year (although he made a nice little impact in a few Finals games).

The big threat to the Warriors is the improvement of other teams in the loaded Western Conference. With the Spurs adding LaMarcus Aldridge to go along with their usual championship pedigree, many are picking them to make a big jump in the West race this season. Having a frontcourt of Aldridge and the seemingly immortal Tim Duncan will test the Warriors’ smaller lineups.

However, the Spurs will have their own mismatches to worry about. Asking Tony Parker to cover Stephen Curry seems just as, if not more, daunting a task as Draymond covering Aldridge. The Spurs made a big addition in free agency with Aldridge, but I don’t think it’s enough to comfortably say that they’re a step above Golden State.

The Warriors will likely face some regression to the mean next season, and perhaps they aren’t as lucky when it comes to injuries. No one should be expecting them to have back-to-back all-time-great seasons, but there’s been very little turnover from the team that won the title last year, and many of the players are young and still developing. Teams like the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Rockets should be better next year, and other teams are improving as well.

But even with that being said, the Warriors are still the defending champs with essentially the same team coming back, so it’ll take a lot to knock them off their perch.

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