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LeBron James, Steph Curry And Kevin Durant No Longer Rule The West And It's Time We Acknowledge It | TheSportsDay LeBron James, Steph Curry And Kevin Durant No Longer Rule The West And It's Time We Acknowledge It | TheSportsDay

LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant no longer rule the West and it's time we acknowledge it

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It’s abrupt, but it’s supposed to be. Unexpected because all the little pieces seem like singular moments instead of something symbolic.

But it’s undeniable, the tidal wave making its way through the NBA — the ageless looking mortal, and the youth snatching the baton away from the gold standard.

The standings look unfamiliar in the Western Conference, except for the champion Denver Nuggets. Minnesota and Oklahoma City reign at the top, and those teams aren’t yielding position any time soon.

Whether it maintains for the spring and early summer remains to be seen, but for now they’ve replaced the likes of teams headlined by LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — players who’ve all been remarkably healthy this season to a large degree, but have been unable to produce the effects on winning that has been commonplace over the last decade, or in James’ case, two decades.

They’re still respected, revered and properly appreciated, but as far as fear and just ceding spots to them, just because they’ve always been there? That’s not happening.

The new kids on the block are knocking off the old guard, and we’ve been waiting for this form of natural order to take shape. It’s supposed to be poetic, it’s supposed to be somewhat cathartic and freeing.

We couldn’t see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turning into an MVP candidate, repeatedly raising his game in the so-called obscurity of Oklahoma City.

But he’s here, and so are they.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has planted himself in the MVP race. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has planted himself in the MVP race. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

The Timberwolves have never truly been considered a serious operation, even though Kevin Garnett gave them a slight identity. Now, though, Anthony Edwards is forcing you to recalibrate what you think about them.

Because they pay no mind to the current standard, too ignorant (in a good way) to realize they’re not supposed to be there.

Yes, the West is better than ever, certainly better than the last two seasons as young and old are mixing it up, and youth is serving.

Remember Kobe Bryant patting Curry on the butt years ago during a preseason game, after Bryant pressed Curry up and down the floor until Curry gave him a quick shimmy to free up space and launching one of those moonshot 3-pointers in Bryant’s grill?

Remember what Bryant did? He smiled on the way down, appreciating the new king announcing his presence. Bryant had done the same thing more than a decade prior, when he was a much younger man.

Michael Jordan was wearing Wizards blue that day at Staples Center, and stepped in front of Bryant to take a charge near the sideline. It was Jordan’s last game in Los Angeles, last game against his heir apparent, and Bryant playfully punched him in the chest before picking him up and grabbing Jordan’s bald dome.

Easy to do when you send your idol to permanent retirement when you drop 55 — 42 in the first half — to mark your own territory.

Jordan had done the same to Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, albeit in those legendary Dream Team practices we’ve only seen glimpses of in the 30 years since.

But it’s the way of the NBA world, and it’s high time we recognize what’s happening in front of our faces. Even the Bird and Magic moments could only happen so organically because they didn’t play out the string of their careers. Bird’s back cut him down to a 13-year career, while Magic’s HIV diagnosis pulled him away from the game a year before Bird stepped away — even though he returned for a better-than-you-remember cameo in 1996.

The Magic and Bird of today — James, Curry and Durant, and perhaps a few more — have changed what we’ve felt about aging in the NBA, pressing pause on the clock. Look at the raw numbers of the three standard-bearers, and juxtapose them with the concerns we had about them individually coming into the season.

We all believed each would likely miss significant time due to injury, because, you know, “old guy getting hurt” isn’t a stretch. But they’ve all been healthy. Curry has played 31 of 33 games. James has played in 32 of the Lakers’ 35 and Durant has only recently begun to miss time, but has been available in 28 of the Suns’ 34 games.

Durant’s numbers have been ridiculous, scoring 30 a night with six rebounds and six assists on 53-48-87 splits. James is shooting nearly 40% from 3, a number he’s reached a grand total of one time throughout his storied career. Curry is scoring at a higher clip than last season and is still at 41% from 3.

Yet, with all that availability, all that efficiency, we could very well see the Lakers, Warriors and Suns in the play-in tournament in April. For the Warriors, that would actually be a step up from where they sit now.

It used to be a given, when Curry went off, when Durant quietly and smoothly took over games, when James put his roar on the floor, it was a guaranteed W — no questions asked, regardless of team circumstance, injury or suspension, drama or coaching decisions.

Now, the conditions have to be much more perfect, and it’s no fault of their own most of the time — the league has just taken these formulas, replaced the fear with verve, taken the shots and dusted themselves off to come back stronger in critical moments.

In what world would even an impressive rookie like Miami’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. walk James down to the post, give him a bump and fadeaway without a second thought, without the slightest recognition this is LeBron James he’s going against — a player who would take such an individual challenge as an insult.

But it’s the circle of life, Simba.

Of course, nobody will dispute the Lakers, Warriors and Suns have had extenuating circumstances so far this season, and all had reasonable championship expectations coming in.

After all, why wouldn’t they? The championship road has been largely defined by these three for a long time now, and the players we thought would be next in line — looking at you, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson — have underwhelmed, both in recognizing their own importance to their franchises but also the bigger picture with the league.

So, old faithful stood tall through the nights, essentially. And make no mistake, each of these teams can change fortunes with personnel moves or health. We all know James isn’t likely to sit idle and let the league pass him by without exerting some real force off the floor, we have too much evidence to the contrary.

And part of the reason we’re so hesitant to acknowledge what we see with James is, he’s a master at packing his bags and leaving when all of his team’s resources have been exhausted in the efforts to please him — thus leaving them with a tattered present and uncertain future while James finds a new host to compete with.

But there may not be but so many more chess moves that can be made, and medicine will be delivered. It’s the way things are supposed to be, so we’ll know how authentic it is when this golden generation finally moves on.

We just have to acknowledge that it’s happening.

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