The Golden State Warriors haven't just owned the NBA this season; they've turned the world's best basketball league into their own.
It's a subtle distinction that makes a big difference.
So far, they've dominated the Association like no team has before. By fending off the Indiana Pacers, 131-123, on Tuesday, Golden State extended its record-setting start to a perfect 23-0 amid a bonanza of baskets.
Stephen Curry finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists and, despite shooting just 3-of-11 from deep, remains on pace to shatter his own record for threes in a season. Michael Gallagher of Rotoworld updated Curry's projections:
Klay Thompson drained 10 threes—tied with Dallas' Wesley Matthews for the most by a player in a single game this season—and scored 39 points in all before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
The Pacers set off some fireworks of their own. Paul George, on the heels of a career-high 48-point performance Saturday, went for 33 more. C.J. Miles added 24, and Indiana closed what had been a 30-point gap to just six in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
The Warriors have put plenty of opponents to shame during their current run of 27 straight wins—the second-longest winning streak in NBA history—dating back to the end of the 2014-15 regular season.
But none of those foes has gone to greater lengths to try to emulate Golden State's formula for success than these Pacers. Once David West walked away from a $12.6 million option to play for the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana seized the opportunity to downsize.
"Everything we did this summer was because of [West's] decision," team president Larry Bird said back in August while introducing Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, per Pacers.com's Mark Montieth.
Beyond those signings, Bird drafted Myles Turner, an athletic center out of Texas, and opened up a spot at center by dealing Roy Hibbert, a slow-footed two-time All-Star, to the Los Angeles Lakers for little more than financial relief.
The end result: a team that not only could play fast-paced small ball like the defending champions, but would have to in order to compete for a playoff spot.
"I felt we had to get up and down the court a little faster and make it more exciting for our fans," Bird explained, per Montieth. "It's going to be fun."
It has been, for the most part. Coming into Tuesday's game, the Pacers ranked 12th in the league in pace with 99.58 possessions per game—a huge uptick from their days as one of the game's slowest outfits.
But the home of the most famous racetrack in America isn't the only place where this turbocharged tempo has taken hold. According to NBA.com, seven teams entered Tuesday averaging at least 100 possessions per game in 2015-16.
|NBA Teams Averaging 100+ Possessions/Game in 2015-16|
Only one team finished in triple digits last season. Can you guess who?
Who else? The Warriors.
To be sure, pace has been on the rise league-wide for some time. But so far, the NBA average for possessions has jumped more dramatically than it has in years, by nearly three per game from last season.
These running, gunning Warriors aren't responsible for all of that, but the impact they've had on the league is difficult to deny. They've upended conventional wisdom at nearly every turn.
Charles Barkley can no longer claim that jump-shooting teams can't win a title, not after watching what Golden State did this past spring.
Chuck and his fellow traditionalists can no longer cling to the notion that you need a great big man to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy, not after Golden State's "Uh-Oh" lineup sliced through the Cleveland Cavaliers' "Bully Ball" during the 2015 NBA Finals.
And when it comes to playing fast, the Warriors have turned convention on its ear—and the Association along with it.
Teams that push the pace are supposed to struggle in the playoffs, when every possession is precious and the pace of play grinds to a slog. They're certainly not supposed to suffocate their opponents on defense like Golden State does.
Leading the league in offensive efficiency—as these Dubs are and nearly did last season—makes sense. The faster you play, the more shots you get and the more points you're likely to score. And if you're piling up points like it's nobody's business, you can afford to play faster and looser on defense.
The Warriors, though, aren't a one-sided outfit. Last season, they finished first in defensive efficiency and second in offensive efficiency. This time around, they're tops in offense and are allowing the same number of points per 100 possessions, all while upping the tempo slightly.
They've shown what's possible in today's NBA, and in a copycat league, seemingly everyone is following suit. More threes, more fast breaks, more quick possessions and more points have made the game more entertaining from coast to coast, from Sacramento to Washington, D.C.
That's good news for the Dubs. Despite the best efforts of imitators everywhere, no team does small and fast like Golden State.
"You can try to copy it, but you won't have the personnel," Curry told ESPN The Magazine's Sam Alipour. "There isn't another Draymond Green, another Klay, another Andre. If you put your small-ball lineup next to ours, we like our chances."
As well they should. The NBA is the Warriors' world now. Everyone else is just scrapping for real estate.
And what a scrap it's been to behold.
Cavs Snap Skid with Strong Second Half
The road through Rock City has been a rough one of late, and not just for the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Tuesday's action on a three-game slide and seemed destined for a fourth straight loss.
A sluggish first half against the young and hungry Portland Trail Blazers left the Cavs in a nine-point hole at the break. They had trailed by as many as 18 points in the second quarter amid a barrage of jumpers from Damian Lillard (33 points) and C.J. McCollum (24 points).
Whatever head coach David Blatt said to his squad in the locker room clearly stuck. Before the end of the third quarter, Portland's lead was no more. By the end of the game, Cleveland had itself a 105-100 win, thanks in no small part to LeBron James' 33 points and Kevin Love's 18.
The team's official Twitter captured a telling postgame quote from Blatt:
Getting locked in is one thing for the Cavs. Staying locked in is another. Cleveland won't play again until Friday, when the team takes its talent to central Florida to take on the Orlando Magic.
Capela Cramps Harden's Style in Houston Loss
And yet this doesn't feel sustainable, especially on offense, against better competition. Houston in those five games eked out wins against the Sixers; the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony; the Pelicans without Jrue Holiday, and the Kings with a cranky and hobbling DeMarcus Cousins.
The Brooklyn Nets, at 5-15 through their first 20 games, certainly fit with that group. The Nets, though, did what those other clubs couldn't: punish Houston for going big in a 110-105 win for Brooklyn at the Barclays Center.
The Nets had no trouble scoring over the Rockets' twin towers. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young scored 24 and 20 points, respectively. Brooklyn, as a whole, piled up 54 points in the paint to Houston's 36, none more emphatic than Thomas Robinson's two over Capela:
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On the other end, the Rockets' lack of reliable shooting—with Howard and Capela up front and Trevor Ariza suffering a back injury in the first quarter—left James Harden (10 points on 2-of-9 shooting, nine assists, seven turnovers) with little room to roam.
If not for big nights off the bench from Marcus Thornton (32 points) and Corey Brewer (22 points), the Rockets could've had a really rough night. As it stands, Houston still has plenty of problems to sort out under interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff before it can look to eclipse the .500 mark on the season, let alone compete for a championship out West.
Thunder Roll Past Rival Grizzlies
If familiarity truly breeds contempt, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies should've been at each other's throats Tuesday night. Instead, the Thunder put their feet to the Grizzlies' necks and never let up on the way to a 125-88 win.
That 37-point margin, bolstered by a third quarter in which OKC outscored Memphis 39-16, was by far the largest to end any of the 40 meetings (regular season and playoff) between these Western Conference rivals since the start of the 2010-11 season.
Kevin Durant did his part, leading all participants in points (32) and rebounds (10). Russell Westbrook did his—first by setting a career high for assists in a half with 12 in the first, and then by ending his evening with a season-high 16 helpers. As a team, the Thunder held the Grizzlies to 40.7 percent shooting, with Marc Gasol (11 points) the lone Memphis starter to score in double figures.
For two teams that had split their previous 20 regular-season meetings and competed three times in the last five playoffs (twice going to Game 7), this game looked more a changing of the guard than an extension of a heated rivalry.
While the Grizzlies look old and can't seem to shoot well enough (3-of-14 from three Tuesday) to compensate for their slumping defense (19th in defensive efficiency entering Tuesday), the Thunder, now 5-2 since Durant returned to the lineup, look ready to reassert themselves as bona fide title contenders.
With 'Dipo on Bench, Orlando Gets Back on Track
On Saturday, the Orlando Magic blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead en route to a two-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Three days later, it was the Magic who stormed back, albeit from a more modest deficit (nine points) earlier in the game (the third quarter) against an inferior opponent (the Denver Nuggets).
Still, a win's a win. Orlando's 85-74 triumph in the Mile High City was the team's sixth in seven games since sending Victor Oladipo to the bench. According to Lowe, the Magic had been toying with the idea of using the former No. 2 pick as a reserve since last season.
Oladipo's 11 points in Denver were the fewest he'd scored since moving to the second unit. His shift in role, though, opened up the floor for Elfrid Payton (18 points, four assists), Nikola Vucevic (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Tobias Harris (17 points, nine boards) to steer Orlando's offense through the thin air at the Pepsi Center.
The Magic won't have much time to catch their collective breath. They play the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, with an opportunity to move four games above .500 and even their road record at 6-6.
Boogie, Kings Get Back on Track
With the Warriors on the road, DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings did their part to keep the good times rolling in northern California. All five Kings starters—and Marco Belinelli off the bench—scored in double figures on the way to a 114-106 win over the Utah Jazz at Sleep Train Arena.
Rajon Rondo (17 points, 13 assists) and Rudy Gay (23 points) were both in fine form, especially when they worked together:
But Cousins was clearly the story of the night. After averaging 14.3 points on 24.5 percent shooting over his previous three games, Boogie bounced back with game highs in points (23) and rebounds (12) to go along with six assists.
What changed for the All-Star center? He took care of business down low, shooting 6-of-6 in the lane to bolster Sacramento's 58-30 edge in paint points.
Not that Boogie didn't have his bumps. He turned the ball over five times before fouling out in the final minutes of the game.
On balance, though, the Kings had to be happy to see their big man get back to beasting and feasting in the middle.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.