The road through the West might look different. It isn't as new and shiny as it was four years ago. It even sports some pesky potholes that need to be filled, patted down, and, if necessary, fixed again.
But it's still the same road, and that road goes through Golden State. Denver found out as much on Friday in a clash of the West's best. The Warriors quenched any early drama by opening the game with a 15-3 onslaught. The defending champs' third option (Klay Thompson) had 27 points by halftime. Denver didn't get a third scorer in double figures until 5:01 remained in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins absolutely swarmed the younger Nuggets on defense, forcing them into a putrid 37.9-percent shooting performance.
Even after being initially overwhelmed, a brief moment of intrigue bloomed. Denver clawed their way within eight late in the third quarter, the Nuggets' key contributors stepping up while the Warriors endured a stretch of Kevin Durant misses and untimely turnovers.
Then, like the video game team they have become, the Warriors flipped to Hall of Fame mode. Durant and-one. Kevon Looney dunk. Stephen Curry bomb. Game over.
No one is confusing these Warriors with the 2014-15 storm that swept the league. Or the 73-win regular-season juggernaut. Or even the year 1 A.D. (after Durant). They already carry 20 losses well before reaching 50 wins. Their point differential is plus-5.8. Those are the marks of a really good team. Not a great one.
Those are also regular-season marks, achievements the back-to-back champs lightly regard. But when the pot merits their full attention, when the stakes actually matter -- and it kind of mattered against the West's second-best team, one which entered just one game back in the standings -- the Warriors become the Warriors.
That team? No one has found an answer for that. Not yet.
L.A.'s playoff team
Everyone pegged the wrong Los Angeles ball club to reach the postseason, and yeah, the Clippers are loving it. More than that, they're earning it, even after trading arguably their most All-Star worthy player (Tobias Harris) before the deadline.
Hasn't mattered, largely because the Clippers rank a stingy seventh on defense since the trade. Meanwhile, their offense (16th) has been just good enough to keep up with -- and beat -- teams like the Thunder, whom they held off 118-110 on Friday.
With Harris gone, Lou Williams has re-donned his super sixth man cape. Since Harris was shipped to Philadelphia, Williams has been averaging 23.1 points, 5.7 assists and 1.2 steals in just 28.2 minutes per game. His 40-point performance against the Thunder marked his 28th career game with 30 or more off the bench -- a new NBA record.
The Clippers have further buffered Harris' departure with an unexpected spike in production from Montrezl Harrell, who has erupted for 18.2 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting since the trade.
Now LA finds itself just percentage points out of sixth place in the West. Whether they overtake Utah for that spot or not, the Clippers have a coin flip's chance of facing a familiar face in round one: Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets.
To block the unblockable
Lift your heads, perimeter defenders. After months of searching, hope has been found in defending James Harden's unguardable step-back 3-pointer.
If you're 6-foot-10, boast a 7-foot wingspan and employ the quickness of Kemba Walker, you too can block the Beard.
In starting alongside Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah made his first NBA start since Feb. 4, 2017. The former Kia Defensive Player of the Year played a solid role (seven points, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks) in Memphis' surprising 114-104 win over Utah.
Don't try this at home
Jabari Parker got away with a minor spine-tingler on this post-whistle attempt. You might not be so lucky with your flimsy plastic hoop.
Don't try this at work
Andre Drummond reinforced his reputation as arguably the best rebounder of this NBA generation, amassing 20 points and 24 boards in Detroit's 112-104 win over the Bulls.
What he did not do is inspire Pistons coach Dwane Casey to draw up 3-point plays.