Breaking down Warriors' competitors in the new-look Western Conference

Breaking down Warriors' competitors in the new-look Western Conference

The Warriors, for the first time in franchise history, have won four consecutive Western Conference championships, which somewhat justifies their relative inertia toward making high-impact moves this offseason.

Remember, DeMarcus Cousins reached out to them.

The rest of the West, however, has been a hive of upheaval, not all of it logical. Nothing over the past couple weeks has been more riveting than watching those chasing the defending champs.

Here are some of the key changes, with assessments, for five retooling challengers hoping to make a deep playoff run:

ROCKETS: After earning the overall No. 1 seed by finishing with the best record in the NBA last season, the Rockers have spent the first 32 days of the offseason tinkering with the roster.

Their best wing defender, Trevor Ariza, is gone, off to the Suns after four years in the starting lineup. Also gone is key reserve Luc Mbah a Moute, their No. 2 wing defender -- and someone capable of guarding some centers. He’s now a Clipper.

The Rockets did, however, retain Chris Paul, overlooking his injury history to sign him to a max deal. They re-signed Gerald Green, who is as inconsistent as he is electrifying. They added in Michael Carter-Williams an awful shooter they hope can be an effective wing defender.

Better or worse: Worse, considerably so if Clint Capela doesn’t return.

THUNDER: Oklahoma City was starting to find its rhythm when elite wing defender Andre Roberson sustained a season-ending knee injury on Jan 27. Still, OKC rallied well enough to earn a No. 4 seed.

To the surprise of many, they were able to re-sign Paul George. They also brought back key reserve Jerami Grant. In addition, they’re bringing in free agent Nerlens Noel, a terrific rim protector, if engaged, behind big Steven Adams.

Yet the most important factors for the Thunder may be the futures of Carmelo Anthony and Andre Roberson. They’d like to unload Melo, whose All-Star ability is gone. His departure would amount to addition by subtraction. Roberson is a crucial asset. His absence stung, as OKC’s defense dropped from top-5 to ordinary.

Better or worse: Better, if Roberson meets his timetable and is ready for opening night.

PELICANS: Thanks to a sizzling second half by Anthony Davis, the Pelicans finished with the No. 6 seed and proceeded to demolish Portland in a first-round sweep.

New Orleans has replaced Cousins with Lakers free agent big man Julius Randle, who was recruited by Davis and would seem to be a better fit for this fast-paced offense. They’ll also have sharpshooter Nikola Mirotic for a full season.

But losing Rajon Rondo, along with Cousins, should take some of the bite out of the offense. As a replacement, Elfrid Payton brings better scoring ability but lacks Rondo’s floor command.

Better or worse: Potentially better, as long as Jrue Holiday is healthy and productive.

BLAZERS: Behind guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and a crew of mostly nondescript characters, Portland played itself into a No. 3 seed. It was surprising then and would be downright shocking if it were repeated in 2019.

To a team featuring two star guards, the Blazers added . . . more guards: Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas through free agency, and Gary Trent Jr. in the draft.

And while the Blazers have agreed to a new deal with center Jusuf Nurkic, they let rugged rebounder Ed Davis walk for an affordable $4.4 million from the Nets. Davis will be missed.

Better or worse: Worse, unless Nurkic brings his “A-plus-plus” game.

LAKERS: After finishing 11th in the West at 35-47 and missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, the Lakers knew what they had to do. And they did it.

They underwent a major overhaul, bringing in veteran free agents Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Rondo and a superstar named LeBron James. They also re-signed starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Fans are dancing on freeways in Hollywood.

Though James and Rondo might be a load for coach Luke Walton and his staff, the vets should complement youngsters Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. Don’t be surprised if, at times, they miss Randle.

Better or worse: Better. They’ll make the playoffs, but don’t yet have enough proven shooters to be a championship contender.

Warriors end Pelicans' season with dominant third-quarter outburst

Warriors end Pelicans' season with dominant third-quarter outburst

OAKLAND -- For one team, the Western Conference semifinals were a big-time measuring stick. For another, it was nothing more than a pit stop on a path to something much larger.

The New Orleans Pelicans are trying to build something. Their first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers is a starting point and the subsequent experience they picked up in round two is extremely valuable.

Their opponent has been to the top of the mountain, earning rings in two of the last three seasons. The Golden State Warriors aren’t playing for experience points, they are looking to cement their legacy as an NBA dynasty.

New Orleans came into Game 5 trailing 3-1 in the series. They had impressed with their grit and ability to make Golden State work on both ends of the court. They were hanging close to the high-powered Warriors through the intermission, but it’s tough to keep the World Champs under wraps for a full 48 minutes.

The Warriors stumbled to end the first half, giving away a 10-point lead in the final four minutes. Golden State bounced back to take a 59-56 halftime lead, which gave coach Steve Kerr the talking points he needed.

“The main message at halftime was, we’re doing great, we just had a couple of errors and you have to remind guys that, you know, the ball is everything,” Steve Kerr said. “A couple of turnovers can change the entire tone of a game.”

Golden State responded to the message and dropped the hammer on New Orleans coming out of the break. In the blink of an eye, the game and series were over.

“We had some bad possessions and then we missed some shots, and so all of the sudden, it’s 10-0 and you know how that goes,” Alvin Gentry said following the loss.

Fueled by the hot shooting of Stephen Curry, the Warriors outscored the Pelicans 36-19 in the third to take a commanding 20-point lead heading into the final frame.

Still working his way back into game shape after a missing more than five weeks of action, Curry dropped in 13 of his team-high 28 points in the quarter.

“Steph is starting to, I think, get his wind back and his legs back and they are just going to become better,” Gentry added.

Draymond Green shook off a slow start to post nine points in the quarter and Kevin Durant added eight of his 24 in a wild 12 minutes of up and down basketball.

“We generated good shots early and they didn’t go in, and we were very confident that if we continue to get those looks, they will go in at the right time and that’s what happened in the third,” Durant said.

Golden State let off the gas in the fourth quarter, allowing New Orleans to climb within striking distance. But in the end, the advantage coming out of quarter No. 3 was way too much to overcome.

With the win, the Warriors advanced to the Western Conference Finals for a fourth straight season. They’ll face a Houston Rockets team that finished off an injury-riddled Utah Jazz team earlier Wednesday evening.

Warriors knock out Pelicans, set up titanic clash with Rockets

Warriors knock out Pelicans, set up titanic clash with Rockets

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- The third quarter tends to be when the magic happens for the Warriors, and they found it once again Tuesday night. It was enough to take them into the Western Conference Finals.

With Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combining for 75 points, and Draymond Green ringing up a 19-point, 14-rebound double-double, the Warriors posted a 113-104 victory over New Orleans in Game 5 to take the conference semifinals.

Limiting the Pelicans to 30.4-percent shooting in the third quarter, the Warriors outscored the Pelicans 36-19 in the period and held on down the stretch.

STANDOUT PERFORMER:
Thompson was hot early, but went cold in the second half while Curry and Durant were efficient and submitted solid all-around games.

Curry’s line: 28 points (10-of-16 shooting from the field, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, 5-of-5 from the line), eight assists and seven rebounds. He played 37 minutes and finished plus-9.

Durant’s line: 24 points (10-of-18 shooting, 1-of-4 from deep, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals. He played 37 minutes and finished plus-13.

TURNING POINT:
After taking a 59-56 lead into halftime, the Warriors opened the second half with a 29-6 run, taking an 88-62 lead on a pair of free throw by Curry with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter.

The Warriors took a 95-75 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Pelicans rallied late, getting as close as seven in the final minutes before the Warriors closed it out with a pair of buckets by Green and a tip-in by Kevon Looney.

INJURY UPDATE:
Warriors: G Patrick McCaw (lumbar spine contusion) was listed as out.

Pelicans: C Alexis Ajinca (R knee injury), DeMarcus Cousins (L Achilles rupture) and G Frank Jackson (R foot fracture) were listed as out.

WHAT’S NEXT:
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Rockets is scheduled for next Monday, May 14, at Toyota Center in Houston.

Here's the full schedule: