The Warriors have just three games left to play in the regular season, but the implications of each could have them seeded as high as No. 3 or as low as No. 6 in the Western Conference playoffs.
The regular season still holds high stakes, which makes Steph Curry’s absence for the remaining games sting. Hope for his return was dashed last week with news that his sprained left foot would be re-evaluated a day after the Warriors’ final game against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 10.
And while it was no surprise that Curry would get that extra time to heal, it has become clear the Warriors offense is inconsistent without him.
They desperately need his gravity and scoring in the playoffs. There is optimism that Curry will be cleared to play for Game 1 of the playoffs on April 16, but no assurances have been made.
“I’m not going to speculate as far as how many weeks he misses because we just don’t really know,” coach Steve Kerr said earlier this week. “Because he has a foundation of 70 games underneath him, and seeing him in the past, I think he will respond quickly.”
Curry has a history of playing through injuries during the playoffs. He sprained his MCL twice, forcing him to miss significant chunks of the 2016 and 2018 postseason. But he was impactful as ever — sometimes with minutes restrictions — when he returned to action. Curry’s performance individually may not be a huge concern for the team if and when he returns.
“Steph has been injured many times during and before the playoffs in the past and he’s always returned well. I’m not concerned about him,” Kerr said. “All it takes is one shot and he’s back in rhythm. We’ll see how it goes over the next few weeks, but following the advice of the training staff and we’ll go from there.”
But how might the team fare if Curry can’t play a few playoff games?
Statistically, the Warriors are simply incomplete without him. They’re 5-10 this season in games he’s missed. The offense holds a team-worst 105 offensive rating when he’s off the court and a team-best 114 offensive rating with him on court.
The eye test backs those numbers: Golden State’s offense is clogged without Curry and exceptional with him in the rotation. Without Curry’s off-ball abilities, Kerr’s motion offense doesn’t quite flow at its best and the Warriors often fall short on firepower needed to keep up.
Sure, Jordan Poole has done his best Curry impression; his 67 3-pointers led the NBA in March and fueled a streak of 17 games with at least 20 points scored. He’s been nails from beyond the arc, maintaining a 45 percent rate over that 17-game span while mixing up his scoring game with impeccable and impossible-looking moves to the rim.
Klay Thompson adds a special kind of firepower, too, despite coursing through more extreme lows than highs since his return on Jan. 9. His 36-point, eight 3-pointer explosion against the Utah Jazz in Saturday’s win shows why — despite those valleys — he remains one of the most dangerous shooters in NBA history.
Assuming the Warriors will play the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz or Denver Nuggets in the first round, Poole and Thompson may not be enough firepower in certain match-ups without Curry.
The Mavericks may be the worst match-up — even with Curry. With stretch five Dwight Powell and considerable length with wings such as Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Reggie Bullock, Dallas has players that double as smothering defenders and capable shooters. Their offense is headed up by 6-foot-7 superstar guard Luka Doncic, a relentless bully against Golden State this year.
A first-round series against Denver or Utah would be a different story. Though Nikola Jokic is a scary opponent for any team in a best-of-seven series, Draymond Green can help neutralize that threat and the Warriors should have them beat on talent — even without Curry — with Denver presumably missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. in the playoffs.
If the Jazz continue to play center Rudy Gobert in drop coverage next to a porous perimeter defense, the Warriors sans-Curry could actually enjoy a series against Utah. Poole, Thompson and Andrew Wiggins could walk into a handful of scoring opportunities with the wide-open spaces in the mid-range and beyond the arc.
Some of these first-round matchups could be winnable without Curry — and imagining any scenario without him could be moot if he returns for Game 1 — but Curry is the Warriors’ offense. They’ll need him back to make a deep postseason run.
Source: Culled From Paradise Post.