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These three teams can spoil a repeat

by Dieter Kurtenbach The San Jose Mercury News | June 23, 2022 at 2:19 a.m.

The celebration is winding down. The parade is over.

And one thing has been made abundantly clear since the Warriors won their fourth title since 2015: Success doesn't leave much time for contemplation.

Welcome to the 2022 NBA offseason, ladies and gentlemen.

The Warriors are the oddsmakers' favorites to repeat as champions, but, like with this season, there will be nearly a dozen teams that can make the argument that they'll be in the mix to win the title next season.

I don't know if they all have a claim, but I do see three squads in the Western Conference (let the East take care of itself) that the Warriors should keep close an eye on this offseason, because they represent the strongest threats to the crown:

Memphis Grizzlies

One could make the argument that the Grizzlies -- not the Mavericks or Eastern Conference champion Celtics -- provided the Warriors their biggest scare this postseason.

There is certainly an alternate universe where Ja Morant never injures his knee and Memphis upsets the Dubs in the second round in May.

But Morant did injure his knee, and the Warriors beat the Grizzlies in six games because of it.

What stood out in that second-round series was how valuable Gary Payton II was, or, I suppose, would have been. Payton was injured in the early moments of Game 2 by a cheap-shot flagrant foul from Dillon Brooks that broke the Warrior's elbow.

I know it feels like a decade ago, but remember: without Payton, the Warriors had no one who could stay in front of Morant on the perimeter, and that provided Memphis with the upper hand in the series until Morant's injury.

Memphis is young, Morant's injury appears to be minor in the grand scheme, and with a couple of simple moves, the Grizzlies could be under the NBA's salary cap by enough to add a clear No. 2 to the mix.

After the Warriors won the title, a number of them spent some time chirping at the Grizzlies in press conferences and on Twitter. There's some energy for a real rivalry here both on and off the court.

Memphis is going to come strong again next season. If the Warriors want to position themselves to beat them again, they need to bring back Payton, at whatever the cost.

Dallas Mavericks

The Warriors were able to beat the Mavericks in five games because Dallas was a one-trick pony.

Their plays include Give The Ball to Luka and Get Out of Luka's way. There's not much else in there.

Against the vast majority of NBA teams, Luka Doncic is singlehandedly enough to win games. But the Warriors -- who hearkened back to their battles with James Harden in the Western Conference finals -- are not the "vast majority."

The Mavericks know that there's a big gap between them and the champions and they've already started working on cutting that down by trading for center Christian Wood, who will provide some sorely-needed rim protection and has a chance to be a nice roll-man with Doncic.

Dallas' issue is that they need a better No. 2 scorer. Steph had Klay Thompson and, at one point, Kevin Durant. Jalen Brunson is a nice backup point guard, but he's nowhere near that caliber of player.

But Brunson is due a new contract this offseason. If the Mavericks lock him in long-term, they will also lock in roughly their current status as championship contenders in theory only. Dallas does have some payroll flexibility and can play around with sign-and-trade possibilities because they can easily fit under the luxury tax line.

If Dallas makes a big, bold move (or two), they could be right back in the Western Conference finals again in 2023 with an even better chance of winning. This is the team to keep an eye on this offseason.

Los Angeles Clippers

There are only a few teams that can boast, as the Clippers can, that they can stand pat and be true title contenders, if not the favorites.

Yes, the Clippers were a play-in team this past season -- not even making it to the real playoff tournament -- but they have one of the most valuable players in basketball returning next year, giving them the best 1-2 punch in the league at the most important position in the game.

Wings win titles. Just ask the Warriors, who saw Andrew Wiggins have an out-of-body experience in the postseason to be the team's second most important player.

Wiggins did his best Kawhi Leonard impression over the last two months.

The Clippers get the real Leonard back next season.

When you pair him with Paul George, a great coach in Ty Lue, a deep roster and a deep-pocketed owner, you have a fascinating combination that might not thrive in the regular season but could be -- if healthy -- a wickedly tough out when the games really matter.

Print Headline: These three teams can spoil a repeat

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