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After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Watch Stephen Curry’s best play from every game last year (VIDEO)

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It was probably damn near impossible to put together at this video.

Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors star point guard/human highlight machine, produces enough good content on a given night for multiple highlight videos. Going through and selecting just the best play from each game must have been a difficult challenge.

But here we are.

The NBA published a video to their YouTube channel this week of the single best play from each game of Curry’s 2016-17 season. The result is a 20-minute video that is well worth the watch.

Summer can seem to drag on, but seeing back-to-back plays like this just makes you thirsty for the winter.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

NBA schedule is out, here are 15 must-watch games

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I feel like Steve Martin yelling “the new phone books are here” — the NBA schedule for 2017-18 is out.

There is big news here — the NBA has built a lot more rest into the schedule in an attempt to limit DNP-rest games for stars in marquee games. What we learned with the schedule being released is there is not one four-games-in-five-nights stretch in the entire schedule for any team. In the 2014-15 season there were 70 of those, last season there were 20, but the league listened to the players — and their medical staffs — and cut those out. Which should help players be more rested and reduce the number of healthy DNP-Rest games.

There are a lot of quality games on the schedule — in a deep Western conference matchups like the Clippers vs. Nuggets or Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans could have playoff implications even early in the season. That’s why the NBA has given flex scheduling to all the networks, so they can put on games that matter more as we move through the season.

Factoring in returns, rivalries, and big days, here are our 15 games must-watch games this season, the ones you need to set the DVR for… if you still have a DVR. Otherwise, go over to your parents and set theirs, you know they still have one.

Opening night, Oct. 17: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (TNT). This is the first of 40 — 40! — times the Warriors will appear on national television this season. That is almost half their games. Don’t tune into this one just to see the banner go up and JaVale McGee get a ring… actually, you do want to see McGee get a ring. More than that though, tune in to get a first look at the Houston Rockets with Chris Paul and James Harden.

Oct. 26: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings (TNT). DeMarcus Cousins makes his first visit to Sacramento since he was traded last season to New Orleans. Kings fans were frustrated with Cousins while he was there, plenty turned on him, and he is going to hear it.

Oct. 27: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta starts the season with a five-game road trip, then returns home to find Paul Millsap wearing the powder blue of the Denver Nuggets to meet them. The Hawks moved on from Millsap more than he from them, but how will Atlanta fans respond.

Nov. 15: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakers (ESPN). The 76ers and No.1 pick last June Markelle Fultz take on the Lakers and No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball in the first meeting between these two point guards.

Dec. 13: Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers (ESPN). Paul George makes his only visit to Indiana this season, the only place the four-time All-Star had played prior to being traded this summer.

Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (ABC). This is the first rematch of the last three NBA Finals during the new season. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant… and who else will be on LeBron’s team at this point in the season? This is the best team in the West against the team likely to come out of the East — LeBron has been to seven straight Finals for a reason — and that is always worth watching.

Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (ABC). With all due respect to LeBron and Curry, this is the best game on Christmas Day. James Harden and Chris Paul against Russell Westbrook and Paul George. We know the Rockets will be an impressive offensive team, but the Thunder should have one of the best defenses in the NBA this season. That makes this an interesting clash of styles.

Jan. 15: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (TNT). The second and final meeting of the season between these two powerhouse teams is set to highlight the Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate of games.

Jan. 15: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (TNT). Chris Paul comes back to Los Angeles to take on the other two parts of Lob City he left behind, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. You can bet DJ is not going to let CP3 just drive the basket without a little physicality.

Feb. 9: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls (ESPN). Jimmy Butler returns to the only city he had played for before being traded this past summer — and he brings with him an impressive team on the rise in Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves.

Feb. 10: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors (ABC). This is last year’s Western Conference Finals, and while San Antonio didn’t have a sexy offseason we know they have Kawhi Leonard, and we know they are going to be good. This could well again be the top two teams in the West.

March 11: Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Lakers (ESPN). LeBron has called Los Angeles home and Tweeted out his love to Magic Johnson, by the time the Cavaliers come to L.A. the “LeBron will be a Laker” rumors will be at a fever pitch. Expect Lakers fans to let him know how much they love him.

March 28: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz (ESPN). Gordon Hayward is going to get booed as he returns to Utah and the Vivint Smart Home Arena wearing Celtics green after choosing the Celtics over the Jazz last summer.

April 1: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs. These are the two teams in the West with their sights set on knocking off the Warriors, but first they are going to have to get past each other in the playoffs. This could have seeding, or at least statement, implications. Plus, watching Kawhi Leonard guard Harden and Paul is going to be fun.

April 3: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder. At this point in the season, teams like these two who plan to make a deep playoff run are shaking off the long-season duldrums and focusing on a strong finish. Especially if this is a potential playoff matchup (second round) there may be teams looking to make a statement.

April 10: Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards. In the final week of the NBA season, two teams looking to climb the ladder and establish themselves near or at the top of the Eastern Conference face off. Plus, John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas is always a show.