The Golden State Warriors are the cream of the crop in today’s NBA. Their 207 regular season wins over the past three seasons, highlighted with two Larry O’Brien trophies, have been a run of dominance the league has not witnessed in decades. Their brand of basketball has become the model for the modern NBA. General managers throughout the league rack up sleepless nights trying to find an answer. Many top competitors have constructed their rosters solely measuring how well they will match up against the reigning champions. It was no surprise that coming into this season, Golden State was again expected to run through their conference and appear in what will be their fourth straight NBA Finals.

OddsShark still lists the Warriors as the top favorite to win it all this season at -175, despite early season struggles. Only this year something feels different when watching the team on the court. Coupled with an improved Western Conference, maybe “Dub Nation” should pause before making their Finals reservations this June.

Lack of dominance at home

The Warriors recent rise to superiority has re-energized a fan base that suffered through several unforgettable seasons over the past two decades. According to Basketball-Reference, Golden State did not win more than 40 regular season games in any season from 1994 to 2006. When the “Splash Brothers,” Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, arrived and the team made the playoffs in 2013, Warriors fans were starving for the on-court excitement.

The result was an electric environment inside Oracle Arena for every home game. The atmosphere became borderline mythical, reminiscent of the home-field reputation Seattle sports fans had created for their beloved Seattle Seahawks some 800 miles north. Visiting players often cited how the energy in the arena reminded them of their days playing in college.

The talent level on the court synced perfectly with the enthusiasm in the stands. It was something the teams home record had begun to reflect.

ESPN reports that the attendance numbers for this year’s Warrior team remain strong, as they continue to sell out at home, as well as draw large crowds on the road. But in this case, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Golden State has started out 8-3 at home through the team’s first 22 games. That includes a surprise loss to a currently 6-14 Sacramento Kings team. As well as a low scoring defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics, in which Steph Curry only contributed nine points. The three home losses this season are nearly half as many as the Warriors have had the past two seasons combined, where they have gone 75-7. Sustained greatness in sports can lead to modified expectations. The fan base that was once hungry for any semblance of a winner, is now expecting their team to dominate the opposition on a nightly basis. The Warriors prominence and popularity has also attracted more celebrities and fair-weather fans to the arena.

Did Kevin Durant miss that defensive assignment because Rihanna was sitting in the front row? That we will never know, but it is safe to say that the electric college gym-like atmosphere that was touted in recent seasons has undoubtedly changed.

The Western Conference has improved

Blown leads, injuries, and poor defense have led to a few surprise defeats for the Warriors this season. They are currently on pace to win 58 games. That total would have been good for third-place in the Western Conference a season ago. This season, the competition level within the conference appears to have improved drastically. Two of Golden State’s notorious season losses have come at the hands of other star-laden franchises, the Russel Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder and the first-place Houston Rockets.

The Thunder have struggled a bit out of the gate, but they are one of the only other teams in the conference that boast the same level of star power that the Warriors have touted. Expect Westbrook and his new teammates, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to unlock the secret to their offensive cohesion sometime around the All-Star break. Just in time to make a playoff push. Oklahoma City matches up well with Golden State on defense. In addition to their stars, they have several key role players who are long, athletic, and can cause problems for Durant and Thompson on the wings. Oklahoma City big man, Steven Adams, gives his team an advantage on the boards, which was made clear in the Thunder's 108-91 win over the Warriors earlier this season.

In that game, Adams owned the glass on both sides of the floor and Golden State was dominated in the paint. According to ESPN, forward Draymond Green’s efficiency numbers are way down this season. Fourth in the league last season with a 7.14 RPM (Real Plus-Minus) rating, Green has dropped to 16 this year with a paltry 3.53 number. Simply put, he isn’t having the same impact on the game as he has had in years past.

The Houston Rockets currently boast the best record in the conference and are one of the three teams to beat the Warriors at Oracle Arena this season. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has assembled a roster specifically designed to match up with Golden State’s highly efficient offense.

MVP front-runner James Harden is currently leading the league in scoring and assists. Nearly every player on the roster can stretch the floor and contribute on defense. And the offseason acquisition of Chris Paul gives the team a leadership quality it has lacked in seasons past. Houston coach, Mike D'Antoni, has his offense taking and making three-point field goals at a record pace. Houston has already sunk 340 shots from deep, over 60 more than the second-place Warriors.

The San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Blazers are also in the mix out west. All four project to make the road to the Finals much more difficult for Golden State this time around.

Finding motivation for Durant

In recent years, the Warriors have boasted tremendous depth and great team chemistry. Last season, newcomer Kevin Durant quickly assimilated into an offense that led the league in efficiency. Against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s Finals, he showcased a killer instinct that Golden State had been lacking the previous season. As fortunate as Steve Kerr’s team is to have a roster full of stars and capable contributors, this team will only go as far as Durant can take them. The former MVP has already dealt with some nagging injuries this season, missing five games in November with an ankle injury. Nevertheless, Kevin Durant’s true impact on this team will be measured in the playoffs.

The Warriors are capable enough to secure a top seed in the conference without their all-star forward, but Durant is the talent that puts them over the top. But now that he has won a championship and a Finals MVP against his rival, does he have the motivation?

Durant has always been a different type of superstar in the NBA. In the past, he has appeared emotional and sensitive to the outside world’s critique. As talented as he is, Durant hasn’t always had the ability to instill fear in his opponent. A likable guy in the locker room, he isn’t the menacing figure that inspires teammates with his overpowering presence the way Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James have. He silenced these storylines with a dominating NBA Finals performance in 2017, but have those characteristics truly evolved?

This season he has seemed distracted with several off the court matters, including speaking out against the nation’s current political climate and finding himself in the middle of a strange social media mishap. Durant does not appear to be as laser-focused as he was during the championship playoff run a season ago. He may have nothing left to prove, but for the Warriors sake, they need him to play like he does.