For a time, it looked like Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors were on a collision course toward their fifth NBA Finals appearance since 2015. Now, they’ll be lucky to make it out of the first round.
The once-hot Warriors have cooled off considerably in the second half of the season. To make matters worse, they’re hoping to survive their final five games without Curry, the two-time MVP and Golden State’s leading scorer.
While the Warriors remain optimistic, it might be too little, too late to turn things around.
Stephen Curry has been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season
Golden State looked like a formidable title favorite to open up the year, winning 18 of its first 20 contests. Leading the way was Curry, who through Christmas was the runaway favorite to secure his third MVP award. Now, the superstar will watch his team from the bench over the next few games.
Curry has officially been ruled out for the remainder of the regular season, as first reported by ESPN. The 34-year-old suffered a left foot sprain on March 16 against the Boston Celtics, missing each of Golden State’s last seven contests.
“We were hoping that maybe he could play one or two games at the end of the regular season, but that was kind of a long shot,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday. “This is how it’s turned out. … I’m not too worried about him.”
The Warriors are set to evaluate Curry on April 11, one day after the end of the regular season. However, both he and the team are confident he’ll return in time for the Western Conference playoffs.
The Warriors have been struggling for a long time, even when Curry was healthy
As mentioned above, Golden State was the best team in the NBA over the first 20 games of the season. But it’s gone just 21-22 since Jan. 1 with five games left to play.
The Warriors’ worst stretch has understandably come without Curry. Since the eight-time All-Star went down last month, Golden State is 1-7 (including the game he left early). But even Steph was a part of the team’s five-game skid just days prior and its 5-5 stretch in February.
So now, with nothing but hope to cling on to regarding Curry’s return to action, is there any reason to think the Warriors can get back on track?
Aside from Jordan Poole, who’s averaged 28.3 points in Curry’s absence, Golden State has received very little from its biggest players. Andrew Wiggins has fallen off since starting in the All-Star Game, shooting 40.1% from the field and 28.4% from three since the break. Draymond Green isn’t a natural scorer, but even he’s given the Warriors just 4.5 points per game since Curry went down and nearly as many fouls and turnovers (6.0) as rebounds (6.2).
When Curry gets back, he’ll likely be less than 100%. Although he makes the Warriors better, a hobbled Steph won’t be enough to take down a team like the Denver Nuggets, led by the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
It’s time to smash the panic button in the Bay.
Don’t be surprised if Stephen Curry comes back for a Game 1 on the road
On Feb. 7, the Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder to secure their ninth victory in a row. The win pushed them up to 41-13, as they looked like a lock to clinch the two-seed in a tough Western Conference.
Now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 48-29 Warriors went on the road for the first game of the first round.
Entering Saturday, the three-seed Warriors are clinging to a half-game lead over the surging Dallas Mavericks. At this rate, it’s likely we see Dallas pass them up, thrusting them into the 4-5 matchup against either Denver or Utah. But if Golden State loses Saturday’s game against the Jazz, they’ll only be separated by a single game with just over a week to play.
Even if Steph, who finished his season averaging 25.5 points a night, comes back for the playoffs, Golden State is a mediocre 19-19 on the road. So these next few games will be critically important for the Warriors, none more so than Saturday’s home game against Utah.
A healthy Steph and a Warriors team firing on all cylinders would be nearly impossible to take down in a seven-game series. Sadly, the version we’ll likely see this postseason is a shell of what it once was.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.