Entering the 2021-22 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were widely considered to be the Warriors' most potent rival in the pursuit of a championship from the Western Conference. However, 25 days removed from the Warriors' win over LeBron James and Co. at Staples Center on opening night, these two teams seem to be headed in completely opposite directions.
The diverging paths reached a crescendo on Friday night, as the Warriors rolled over the Chicago Bulls while LA was blown out at home by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Anthony Davis ripped into his teammates in his postgame media availability, saying they are far from a title contender as of now (h/t ESPN/Dave McMenamin).
"We sucked," Davis said when asked about the third. "No defense. Can't score. That's not just this third quarter, it's every third quarter we've played this season. We come out slow, lackadaisical offensively and defensively. We got to get it together. Why? I can't tell you. But we got to do a better job.
"We got to decide who we want to be. A championship team? That's not us right now," Davis said. "We're not winning a championship the way we're playing. We got to be better, and we got to care more for our wins at home. Wins in general. That was embarrassing."
That Timberwolves team that led by as much as 30 and beat LA 107-83 on Friday had just lost by 13 to the Warriors in their previous game at Chase Center on Wednesday.
The Lakers now sit 7-6, ranking 27 out of 30 NBA teams in points allowed per game (112.3) and 24 out of 30 in offensive rating (104.7). The Warriors (NBA-best 11-1 record), meanwhile, pace just about every team statistical category, standing first in points per game (116.2), defensive rating (99.2) and net rating (+14.3). Golden State also has the NBA's second-lowest points allowed per game (101.5) and second-best offensive rating (113.6).
The best indication of the gulf between these two teams currently might be their third-quarter stats. While the Warriors have recaptured the ridiculous third frames that were a focal point of the five-year dynasty, the Lakers have been outscored by 83 points in those quarters this season, the NBA's worst differential.
To be fair, the Lakers are attempting to build chemistry with a roster that has just a handful of players carried over from last season. James has missed the last five games as he deals with an abdominal injury.
The Warriors also have been dealt a much more favorable schedule to begin the season, and just wrapped up a 7-1 homestand that featured six teams who were not in the playoffs a year ago.
If there is one thing the NBA has learned over the past two decades, LeBron's teams never can be counted out. This veteran-laden team should figure things out at some point, or James and the front office likely will be looking to make some sweeping in-season changes.
Through the first three and a half weeks of the season, however, all the momentum in the West lies with the Warriors.