LOS ANGELES -- For much of the season, the Warriors have been in competition with their own complacency in pursuit of their third consecutive NBA title.
There was the 2-6 stretch following the 10-1 start to the season, lowlighted by a certain two All-Stars engaging in a verbal altercation on the sideline during an overtime loss to the Clippers.
Two months later, Golden State slogged to a 4-6 record following a 16-1 stretch, temporarily surrendering the top seed in the West to Denver. Now, after a 108-90 win over the Lakers, their second double-digit victory in as many outings, the Warriors seem to be playing their best basketball at just the right time.
Golden State dominated early Thursday, holding the Lakers to just 12 points on 20.7 percent from the field. As the Warriors’ offense tightened, Kevin Durant scored 10 of his 15 points in the quarter.
"It was a great way to set the tone," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "Games like tonight, you have to come out with a good effort in the first quarter and find a way to establish a dominance and let that carry the rest of the game."
With LeBron James, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma out for the Lakers, the Warriors seemed to dominate even when they weren't necessarily sharp. Even with seven first-quarter turnovers, the Warriors shot 64 percent from the field while dishing out 12 assists -- none better than a left-handed behind-the-back pass from Curry to Durant.
"Their whole team is missing. It was pretty easy for us to get in a rhythm," Durant said. "They're playing a lot of young players, a lot of inexperienced players. I think we took advantage of that."
Thursday's win, the ninth in the team's last 12 games, capped off a stretch for the Warriors in which they've taken control of the Western Conference, earning a two-game lead over the Nuggets with four games left before the playoffs start.
Coinciding with the Warriors’ most recent push has been the rise of DeMarcus Cousins. Two nights after posting 28 points and 13 rebounds in a win over the Nuggets, Cousins scored a game-high 21 points, adding 10 rebounds in 24 minutes against the Lakers. He did most of his damage in the third quarter, scoring 11 points -- including three 3-pointers -- in the frame.
Since his return from a torn Achilles, Cousins' 3-point shot has been inconsistent, but it has come on as of late. Over his last two games, he's shooting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. In the last month, he's averaging 16.8 points, 8.1 rebounds on 54.0 percent from the field.
"I think he's been amazing," Curry said. "He's playing with more confidence, more decisive when he has the ball in his hands. It's a great thing to see, especially with the amount of talent we have on the floor. Everybody working together and in sync. He looks good, his body looks good."
While Cousins has improved, Durant is in the midst of the most efficient stretch of his career. Following a 15-point, 5-of-7 shooting performance Thursday night, Durant now is averaging 18.6 points per game on 66.6 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc over his last six games.
Last season, the Warriors slugged to a 7-11 finish to the regular season, marred by the absence of Curry, bad defense and the complacency that comes with being locked into the second seed for the last weeks of the season. A year later, with the Western Conference crown on the line, the Warriors have something to play for and, more importantly, seem engaged enough to achieve their short-term goal of home-court advantage in the postseason.
"I feel great right now," Durant said. "I felt great last year. I feel good going into the playoffs. It's hard to compare years. Different teams, different settings, different dynamics around the league. It's kind of hard to compare. I think we are in a good place."