NBA Western Conference outlook: The Warriors belong

Poole: With Bogut, Warriors are championship contender

NBA Western Conference outlook: The Warriors belong
October 28, 2013, 8:45 am
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Mark your calendars because Stephen Curry and the Warriors square off against Chris Paul and the Clippers Oct. 31 and March 12 in L.A., and Dec. 25 and Jan. 30 at Oracle. (AP)

Programming note: Catch the Warriors' season opener Wednesday, October 30 when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at Oracle Arena -- coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

The Lakers are desperately trying to prove they still matter and the Clippers have given their new coach, the esteemed Doc Rivers, the impossible task of bringing definition to the mirage that is DeAndre Jordan’s untapped potential.

The Spurs are hoping Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili can summon one more rodeo, the Rockets are praying the steady hand of James Harden can stabilize the hypersensitive Dwight Howard, and the Grizzlies, gritty as century-old gym floor, lack the firepower needed for a spectacular finish.

Meanwhile, two years after looking like a team built for an extended run atop the Western Conference, Oklahoma City will open the season with Kevin Durant surrounded by a bunch of guys from the playground.

With each of these teams burdened with at least one significant flaw, rendering any march to glory as particularly challenging, we introduce this clear-eyed truth: The Warriors, health permitting, have the goods to win the West.

Stunning, yes, but also stimulating. Now allow this blurry vision a few moments to come into focus.

The Warriors have a top-five power forward in David Lee, a top-four team/individual defender in Andre Iguodala, a top-three center in Andrew Bogut and championship-level shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Ownership consistently exhibits its desire to contend, management is both credible and ambitious and coach Mark Jackson, who immediately commanded the room, is growing ever more comfortable in his coaching chair.

The ingredients to reach the conference finals are there. And if the thought of it seems slightly insane it’s because the bar has been set so low, for so long, that the general reflexive action is that the Warriors do not belong in any discussion about championship-quality hoops.

They belong now. They may not win the west, probably won’t win it, but they’re potentially good enough now that no one should be surprised if they do.

Here’s my NBA Western Conference playoffs forecast, teams one through eight, for 2013-14.

Top Seed: San Antonio Spurs -- Still the kings, with a great coach and a savvy roster. But Duncan turns 38 next April and Manu is an "old" 36; he looked like a YMCA player last May. Father Time whispered last season. He’ll shout this time.

No. 2: Los Angeles Clippers -- Their bandwagon is full. I’m not on it. Can’t be, when they need so much from Blake Griffin and Jordan. Rivers, however, is worth another half dozen wins.

No. 3: Warriors -- They haven’t won 55 games since 1992. They will this season – if they get fully healthy seasons from Curry and Bogut.

[POOLE: MVP candidate Curry evolving into Warriors' trusted leader]

No. 4: Oklahoma City Thunder -- Yes, fourth. As great as Kevin Durant is, they’ll have some catching up to do when Russell Westbrook returns – too much to climb any higher than fourth.

No. 5: Houston Rockets -- I’m a big James Harden fan. I like Chandler Parsons. But completely buying into the Rockets means having complete faith in Dwight Howard. I’m going to need proof.

No. 6: Memphis Grizzlies -- They lost a good coach in Lionel Hollins. What they really needed to gain – a reliable scorer on the wing – remains on the wish list because Mike Miller is not it.

No. 7: New Orleans Pelicans -- The Big Easy means two things in the NBA: great food and an easy W. No longer. Center Anthony Davis is surrounded by a wide variety of young scorers, and they will be heard.

No. 8: Minnesota Timberwolves -- We keep waiting for this bunch to break through, and they keep breaking. If Kevin Love plays 80 games, they’ll win at least half.

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