The NBA trade deadline all comes down to one goal — beating the Warriors and Cavs

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Jeff Chiu/AP

The NBA is a top-heavy league.

The Golden State Warriors rule the Western Conference with a 47-9 record. They won’t top last year’s historical 73-9 season, but, amazingly, their point differential is even higher this season.

In the East, the Cavaliers are the top dogs, even with major injuries to Kevin Love and J.R. Smith.

Once again, the rest of the NBA is staring up at the Warriors and Cavaliers, trying to figure out how best to compete with them.

This seems especially pertinent as the trade deadline approaches on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. Playoff-contending teams have one goal to every move: does this move make us good enough to beat the Warriors or Cavs.

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick noted this on Bill Simmons’ podcast on Tuesday, saying that the Warriors have essentially become the NBA’s measuring stick.

“Maybe it was like this in the NBA when Jordan was playing, but I just feel like the last two years, it all comes down to, ‘Can you beat the Warriors?’ Whereas, like, five years ago, you always are gonna have a handful of teams, five or six teams, that have a legit chance. But it wasn’t that one team, where like, everything Cleveland is doing is ‘Can we beat the Warriors?’ The whole conversation about [the Clippers], no matter what we do in the regular season, no matter if we get to the conference finals or not, it’s can we beat the Warriors.”

The Warriors even seem to be the measuring stick for the Cavaliers. Despite beating the Warriors in the Finals last season, after Golden State added Kevin Durant, the chase seems to be on again. The Cavaliers traded for Kyle Korver this season, adding another weapon to their extensive arsenal. Why? They might need him to keep pace with the Warriors.

This season, as LeBron James demanded the Cavs get him more help off the bench, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggested that James may have the Warriors on his mind.

“Bottom line: Kevin Durant is now on the Golden State Warriors.

“That is a league and maybe history-changing consequence, the cap spike allowing a 73-win team with three All-Stars to add an MVP. After the wrecking ball hit the Oklahoma City Thunder, perhaps no one else was more affected than James and the Cavs.”

“Now, though, the smoke has cleared. James is stone-cold sober about how challenging his mission is for this season. The Warriors (41-7) are awesome. Their firepower is incredible. They’ve only gotten stronger as the season has gone on.”

Some of the biggest moves approaching the NBA deadline seem to have been made with the Warriors and Cavs in mind.

The Houston Rockets traded a first-round pick for Lou Williams to add some scoring punch and relieve James Harden. Why? Perhaps they can try to outscore the Warriors in a series.

The Clippers are among the teams targeting help at small forward, reportedly considering trading a first-round pick for Suns wing P.J. Tucker. Why? Despite a core that’s nearly on-par with the Warriors, they’re still one piece away from truly being able to handle them. Tucker could help plug that hole.

And in the Eastern Conference, the goal is to top the Cavaliers. The Raptors made a big trade for Serge Ibaka to try to contend with the Cavs. The Wizards gave up a first-round pick to strengthen their bench in hopes of giving the Cavs a chase. And the Celtics seem to be weighing a major trade to do the same.

Anything can happen in the postseason, as the Warriors and Cavs both showed last year. But in the meantime, the NBA is a two-dog league, and any playoff contender only matters if they can measure up with Cleveland and Golden State.