PORTLAND, Ore. — With 25 games remaining in the regular season, there isn't much of a question as to whether the Golden State Warriors will reach their fifth consecutive NBA Finals; it's how easily they'll get there.
Late in their final game before the All-Star break, a 129-107 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was ejected for smashing a whiteboard while disputing a flagrant foul call against Draymond Green. It was simultaneously a canny early exit for a weeklong vacation and a way to keep things interesting in a game that was otherwise meaningless for the two-time defending champions.
That's where the Warriors are right now. At 41-16, they're on pace to win "only" 59 games. They hold a two-game lead over the Denver Nuggets for the top seed in the Western Conference and have won 18 of their last 21 games. Any intrigue about playoff matchups giving them problems feels manufactured.
The only moments of drama in this Warriors season have been of the interpersonal variety—a much-publicized November blow-up between Green and Kevin Durant and the more recent circus that's accompanied ramped-up speculation about Durant's upcoming free agency. Even their biggest on-court question mark, the mid-January introduction of DeMarcus Cousins into the lineup, has been relatively smooth.
"We fought through some things, which happens," Green said after the loss in Portland. "We're trying to win a, what, third straight championship? It's not easy. So s--t happens, and s--t did happen, and we got through it. Sucks for everybody else; I know everybody else was hoping we didn't. Like I told y'all months ago, everybody on this team isn't gonna stop this run. Someone else gotta be lucky enough to do it. And luck might've run out."
The Warriors haven't lost a playoff series in the Western Conference since 2014. They've come close twice, in the conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016 and Houston Rockets in 2018. None of the challengers they could face in the later rounds this year are on the level of either of those teams.
The closest thing to a threat this year's Warriors have in the West is the Thunder, the best defensive team in the conference.
Paul George is in the midst of a career year, simultaneously making strong cases for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Russell Westbrook, despite his historically awful shooting season, has found ways to have an increased impact defensively. Thursday's addition of veteran big man Markieff Morris gives the Thunder more depth. They're the most physical team Golden State will possibly face in the playoffs.
There is a world in which the Thunder could give the Warriors a scare, but a "scare" feels like the best-case scenario. George will have his hands full with Durant, and the Thunder will have to hope Westbrook can contain Stephen Curry. Despite his much-improved defense, that's a tall order.
The Portland team that beat Golden State before the break currently sits at fourth in the conference. The strong play of big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins has nicely complemented the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt tandem, and the pre-deadline addition of forward Rodney Hood has looked to be a nice fit thus far. The Blazers also signed veteran center Enes Kanter, who will join the team after the break.
Although the Blazers have historically played Golden State tough in the regular season, that success hasn't translated into the postseason. The two teams have faced each other twice since the Warriors' run started, with Golden State defeating Portland in five games in 2016 and earning a sweep in 2017. As solid and reliable as the Blazers have been during that time, they haven't made the kind of roster upgrades to seriously challenge the Warriors.
The Rockets team that took Golden State to seven games in last year's Western Conference Finals has been plagued by injuries. James Harden's historic scoring tear has placed him front and center in the MVP picture, and the Rockets have needed every ounce of it to overcome a horrendous start to the season and rebound to fifth in the West.
Chris Paul recently returned from a hamstring injury, but starting center Clint Capela is still sidelined with a thumb injury. Given Paul's age (33) and injury history (extensive), it's hard to count on his body holding up during a deep playoff run. For the Rockets to upset the Warriors, Harden will have to keep up his ridiculous scoring pace for four more months, and even then it's no sure thing.
The Denver Nuggets have the second-best record in the West with an offense built around multiskilled center Nikola Jokic. They're deep, talented, versatile and well-coached. They're also unproven—Denver hasn't made the playoffs since 2013, and not one player from that group remains on the roster.
The last time the Nuggets were in the postseason, they were upset in the first round by an upstart version of the Curry-Thompson-Green Warriors, still two years away from becoming a juggernaut.
The Warriors aren't just the most talented team in the league. They're also comfortable with each other and have somehow been able to maintain perspective through this year's drama. By now, their dominance has become so routine that it's tempting to imagine doubt and uncertainty where none exists. They're still blowing teams out, and they have the West's best point differential. Cousins has fit in despite early growing pains.
With no LeBron James waiting for them in the Finals, the Warriors' greatest challenger may be one of the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers. But those teams don't have the pedigree or continuity of this Warriors squad, and that's what they'll always have to hang their hat on.
"We're a proven team," Curry said. "We understand how to win championships and what it takes, and we're showing up nice into this last run up to the All-Star break. We got to come back focused and rejuvenated and understand that it's not going to be easy. We got plenty of talented teams, and it's going to be a gauntlet in the West. But if we play our A-plus game, we definitely feel like nobody can beat us."
No one knows what the Warriors will look like next season. Durant may leave in July, but before then, there are four months of basketball games, and they're still the best team in the world. And they know it.
Said Green: "So long as our chemistry is great, no one can beat us. For real."
Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is currently based in Portland. Follow Sean on Twitter, @highkin.