WASHINGTON • The Golden State Warriors followed up their second consecutive title, and third in four years, by adding DeMarcus Cousins, the four-time All-Star.
It became commonplace to declare that they had ruined the National Basketball Association (NBA) by removing any suspense to the season. Just give them the Larry O'Brien trophy.
A starting line-up of five All-Stars, two of whom are former recipients of the Most Valuable Player Award, was just too much.
There was palace intrigue, however. Kevin Durant and Draymond Green feuded in public, Cousins was routinely exposed in defence and Klay Thompson had a rough start.
Stephen Curry's shot seemed to fail him before he began wearing contact lens on the court - in a scary admission that he had struggled with his vision for years even as he established himself as the deadliest three-point shooter in NBA history.
The drama, which many on the team have said is actually less than what they dealt with last season, led to long stretches in which the Warriors seemed pedestrian.
Perhaps most relevant to these play-offs, it led to them feuding with officials, and Durant and Green topping the NBA in technical fouls.
It has widely been assumed that this will be Durant's last season in Golden State. The quirks of the salary cap mean Cousins is almost assuredly gone as well.
Shaun Livingston is likely to retire, Andre Iguodala cannot outrun time forever, Green's long-term status is tenuous and Thompson is about to be a free agent.
This could indeed be the last run of the Warriors dynasty. Despite all of that ado, there is no reason to believe the Warriors can't flip the switch and march to the Finals, just like they did last year.
The Warriors (57-25) secured the top seeding in the Western Conference by winning six in a row before losing their season finale.
They begin a quest to become the first team in 50 years to win four titles in five years when they host the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers (48-34) today.
"This is what we have been waiting for and we know what is at stake," Thompson said.
The only potential obstacles standing in the Warriors' way seem to be Curry's foot - the team have said his ankle injury is not serious, but that situation should be monitored - or a boredom with domination so deep that they loaf their way to a shocking upset.
With Cousins and Durant hoping to add a ring on their way out the door, focus should not be a problem. But first, they will have to get there.
Golden State have a lot going for them - including winning the season series over the Clippers 3-1 and a 27-point blowout in their most recent contest.
The Warriors hardly broke a sweat in that game and it has been similar in the opening round in which they have won 16 and lost just two games in Steve Kerr's era.
"It is a good match-up geographically, but it is a hell of an opponent," the coach said.
"We've got nothing to lose," Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said. "All the pressure is on them."
The East's top seeds are the Milwaukee Bucks (60-22), who are without guard Malcolm Brogdon for their series against the Detroit Pistons (41-41) tomorrow.
But they have leading Most Valuable Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece as they look for their first series win since 2001.
There are some banged-up contenders in the East, which will not have LeBron James leading a team to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
The East's healthiest team are the second-seeded Toronto Raptors (58-24), who open today at home against the seventh-seeded Orlando Magic (42-40).
Back in the West, superstar James Harden and the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets (53-29) host the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz (50-32) tomorrow.
Houston are 19-6 since the All-Star break, while Utah are 18-5. The winners will face Golden State.
"Defensively, we have been getting after it," Harden said.
"Offensively, we have been knocking down shots. We are excited. We are ready."
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA