You saw this coming.
Sure, the Warriors got blown out in the opener vs. the Spurs. And yeah, the Lakers sneaked up on them on a back-to-back (after a late-night flight with, ahem, Drake on board, inbound to L.A.). And, yes, the Warriors have looked unimpressive vs. a host of subpar teams like the Pelicans and Suns. But with the Clippers' loss to the Pistons Friday night (after L.A. decided to spend Thanksgiving hanging out at the Cowboys game), and after Golden State's second-straight demolition of the Lakers,you look at the standings, and there the Warriors are.
Record: 14-2. Win percentage: 0.875. The Cavaliers have played fewer times, the Clippers have one more loss.
The Golden State Warriors awoke Saturday morning with the league's best record for the first time in 2016-17.
It's not just the win total, however. It's about how Golden State is playing overall, as evidenced by Steve Kerr ripping their performance against the Lakers Friday night despite a lopsided victory. The Warriors have been No.1 in offensive efficiency for a while. But their number on offense, 115 points per 100 possessions, is a full 3.5 points higher than the second-ranked Cavaliers. For perspective, that's the a little more than the same gap as between the Cavaliers and the fifth-place Rockets.
Even more scary, is that after spending the first three weeks of the season in the bottom 10 defensively, Golden State has found its stride on that end, too, and cracked the top 10 for the first time this season in defensive efficiency as of Friday's win.
In short, Golden State now has the league's best offense and eighth-best defense. Now, much of this is helped by the series of dregs the Warriors have played in the last ten days. They've faced the Bucks, Pacers, and then the (rapidly-falling-back-to-earth-like-a-defective-satellite) Lakers twice. But you play who's in front of you, and the Warriors have been beating the pants off teams.
So the Warriors, it turns out, are who we thought they were. They are the best team in the league, with the best offense in the league, and a defensive that will likely lay claim to a top-five spot before long. They are dominant, even if they have clear weaknesses with rebounding and rim protection.
There will be a lot of smug derision of early criticism, but that's misplaced. The Warriors genuinely did not play great for the first three weeks of the season. But it's a long season. They won't play as well as they have the last two weeks for the whole year, either. No one doubted they'd finish with one of the best, if not the best record in the West. No one thought they weren't serious contenders, or even the favorites for the NBA title. They struggled, they worked through it, they're playing better. That doesn't make the criticism wrong, unless it came with foolhardy proclamations of Golden State's struggle.
And none of this means they are a lock to win the NBA title. Last year's Finals taught us that, once and forever. But just so you're aware, the Warriors are B-A-C-K, and there's no signs of anything being able to slow them down right now.
And all of this, by the way, might be a great thing for the Clippers.
Keep in mind that the Clippers remain second in net points per 100 possessions, and have the third-best offense and third-best defense. They have more signature wins on their resume than Golden State, and continue to enjoy what looks like a wholly different chemistry. This team looks like it loves to play together, and has everyone firing on all cylinders. They face the Warriors on December 7th in what will be one of the biggest regular season matchups of the year.
Golden State will probably win that game, as they should be favored to win every game they play. But with the Warriors taking over the league's best record, it provides two things. One, the Clippers will coast under the radar. Media and fans have been dying to anoint and celebrate the Warriors as one of the truly great teams, ever, since they landed Kevin Durant. So now the Clippers get to go back to laying in the weeds, simultaneously avoiding a harsh spotlight and being empowered by a seething resentment of their California cousins.
Everyone is casting aside the Clippers because of their past playoff foibles. No matter how different this team looks, until they reach the Conference Finals, many won't take them seriously. That means they avoid the pressure and media attention, like the kind the Warriors said wore them out last year in their pursuit of 73 wins. This sets up the Clippers as a sleeper team. That works out perfectly for them, even as they remain huge underdogs in any possible playoff matchup with the Warriors.