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2016-17 Warriors face no Pacific threat

The Warriors are already penciled in for not only another trip to the NBA Finals, but also presumably a third-straight Pacific Division title.

The fight for another title may have some fierce competition. The battle for a division crown? Not so much.

Here’s a look at their competitors in the Pacific Division and where each will likely finish.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Since we are going in reverse order, the Lakers get thrown a bone, as this will be the only time they sniff the top in a Pacific Division preview for some time.

To keep it short, the Lakers just won’t be good. Yes, they have intriguing pieces, Brandon Ingram has looked good early, Jordan Clarkson has been the most consistent Laker the last two seasons, Luke Walton’s going to bring some much needed coaching stability and D’Angelo Russell is another year older, but not necessarily wiser.

But their defense is still trash; they ranked in the bottom three in defensive efficiency the last three years.

They cashed out Timofey Mozgov like he was the second coming of Dwight Howard. Ironically, the Howard move to Atlanta might have a happier ending.

But being bad — again — could be just what the Lakers need.

Los Angeles needs their 2017 draft pick to be among the top three selections — or it goes to Philly as part of a series of multi-team trades dating back to the Steve Nash swap with Phoenix in 2012. The same conditional draft pick netted the Lakers Russell in 2015 and Brandon Ingram in 2016, both with the No. 2 overall picks. The pick is unprotected in 2018.

4. Phoenix Suns

Doesn’t it seem like five minutes ago Phoenix was the next big dangerous team?

They had a young, exciting team, a hot new coach and trade assets to burn. Now, they have basically none of those things.

They are young for sure, but not that exciting. Rookies Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss play the same position, and are nowhere close to contributing.

Roster-building has not been a strong suit for the franchise, as you’ll remember they built a team with three starting quality point guards in Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas.

Out of 15 roster spots, nine are either power forwards or point guards. So it looks like they haven’t learned anything.

Devin Booker looks like a stud, but he isn’t someone who can put the team on his back and lead them to wins.

On the bright side, they’ll be better than the Lakers.

3. Sacramento Kings

The Kings have to feel lucky. By the simple virtue of playing in the Pacific Division, they are automatically better than two god-awful teams.

Sacramento will finish third in the division standings, but if team rankings were based on internal turmoil and general chaos, the Kings would finish first. It’s almost depressing how little this team has no idea what to do.

Since 2010 when they drafted DeMarcus Cousins, they’ve picked in the lottery every year: Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis.

Swing and a miss, excessive swings and misses, like that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

No wonder Boogie was asking for the Lord to give him strength.

Plus, Sacramento is ridiculously shallow. Their best bench player is Matt Barnes followed by … Kosta Koufos? Omri Casspi? Yeah, it’s not pretty.

They have an actual good coach, so maybe Dave Joerger and Cousins will be enough to drag this corpse of a team toward respectability.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

The main three for the Clippers remains the same.  No matter how polarizing that is, they shook up what has been consistently one of the worst benches for a playoff team.

They quietly improved a lot but it’s still probably not enough to push them over the top.

Marreese Speights is the backup big they have always needed, someone who can stretch the floor and share it with either DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin. Spacing has been one the greatest weaknesses for the Clips, as Griffin and Chris Paul both like to work the midrange with Jordan in the paint and J.J. Redick as their only 3-point threat.

Raymond Felton is also another useful piece, as they are thin on the wing with Jamal Crawford getting older (36) and paid, and Austin Rivers being Austin Rivers.

Felton could also step in for Paul if they want to rest him certain days to avoid losing him to injury yet again.

But this team is in a weird place. They are good enough to get a top two seed in the West if they remain healthy and Griffin can get back to pre-equipment manager form.

But they also match up terribly with the Warriors—and that was before Kevin Durant.

In many ways, they are a mirror-match with the Warriors: strong point guard play on both sides, a sharpshooter for a shooting guard and a do-it-all power forward. But now, the Warriors have Kevin Durant and the Clips have … Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Can they make it to a Western Conference final for the first time? Totally. Will they, is the question, and one that they, at least so far, have no answer for.

1. Golden State Warriors

It seems almost unfair to put what could be the most dominant offensive force in the league against the Suns, Kings and Lakers a combined 12 times.

Not to mention the Clippers — easily the second best team in the division — who got wrecked by 45 by the Warriors in the preseason.

The good news for the NBA? The Warriors haven’t looked invincible, aside from the Clippers game. Dominant and athletic centers will give this team problems, as Zaza Pachulia is just too slow-footed to stay in front of those players.

But the Warriors will probably only play a traditional center for a fraction of the time, so it may be a moot point.

The bad news for Golden State’s opponents is that this team’s stars are finding their rhythm together faster than anyone could have predicted. There isn’t an awkward my-turn, your-turn style to their offense. Instead it’s been a who’s-open, you’re-open type of play.

Naturally there will be more adjustments as Steve Kerr plays with his rotations and experiments with staggering his stars. And you can bet he’s going to be even more liberal with his rest days now that he has four star players, and injuries ended up costing them in the Finals.

Plus, this team is deeper than last season.

Add it all up, and it should equal another Pacific Division banner being hung for the Warriors.

Haight Airbnb

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