Warriors' shrinking margin for error evident with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson injuries
Steph and Klay should be ready to go by the playoffs, but there's a more humbling reality developing
Stephen Curry is out with a sprained right ankle until at least March 20, . Draymond Green is out Wednesday night vs. the Lakers with a sore shoulder. And now reports have surfaced that Klay Thompson's right thumb, which was originally thought to be sprained, and will be re-evaluated on March 22. Thompson could well be out for a few weeks, at least, if that is indeed the case.
On their own, none of these injuries are particularly debilitating for the Golden State Warriors, who, entering Wednesday, effectively sit three games behind the Rockets for the No. 1 seed out West (two games in the standings, but Houston owns the tiebreaker). They've said all along that the No. 1 seed is of little concern to them, if any at all. The only thing they care about is being healthy and clicking come playoff time.
If all goes well with with these recoveries, which there is no reason to think it won't, that remains a viable goal. The playoffs don't start for another month. Chances are, Curry and Thompson will be back to their gunfighter selves by mid-April and we can all settle in for the eventual Rockets-Warriors Western Conference finals matchup everyone is expecting.
But the bigger picture of the Warriors' increasing vulnerability continues to develop. There was a time when it didn't feel like anything could stop this team. Their margin for error was considered so big that they could actually stand to lose a Kevin Durant or Curry and still be the favorites to win it all. No other team in the league enjoys that kind of depth at the top of their roster. If LeBron James goes down, the Cavs are done. If DeMar DeRozan goes down, the Raptors are done. If James Harden goes down, the Rockets are done. If Kyrie Irving goes down, the Celtics are done.
We are seeing now that the Warriors are probably in the same boat.
Over the last two games without Curry, the Warriors have lost by a combined 23 points to the Blazers and Wolves, the latter of which was playing without Jimmy Butler. The Warriors' offensive rating when Curry is on the court is an absurd 120.5, and overall they are almost 10 points per 100 possessions better with him leading the charge. Believe it or not, they are actually pretty much the same team, in terms of production, whether Durant plays or not.
In short, they can't lose Curry. They realistically couldn't afford to lose Durant, either, no matter what the numbers say, but there is no reason to think they will lose Durant. Curry, on the other hand, has now rolled that same right ankle that he had surgically repaired in 2012 four times since December. Assuming he comes back by, say, early April and remains healthy into the playoffs, the question of when it will happen again is starting to hover over this team.
Thompson, for his part, has been extremely durable over his career. But now we're talking about a fractured thumb on the shooting hand of a guy who makes his living shooting. A dirty little secret about the Warriors is that they actually don't have a lot of shooting depth. It's not a problem when Curry, Durant and Thompson are firing, but peek behind that star-covered curtain and you'll see the likes of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Patrick McCaw, Quinn Cook and Nick Young. Young is a decent 3-point shooter, if streaky, but the Warriors have never fully trusted him to play anything other than a peripheral role.
Not a lot of floor stretching in that group.
Again, Thompson will probably be fine in time, though a broken thumb on a shooting hand can pose obvious problems that perhaps nobody is projecting right now. At any rate, against the Rockets, and maybe even some of the other Western teams in what is a ridiculously stacked playoff field at the moment, Golden State has to be firing on all cylinders. It's not just Curry and Durant. It's Thompson, Green, Iguodala, Livingston, Jordan Bell, Zaza Pachulia, the whole bunch.
Houston, if you haven't noticed, is absolutely for real. The Warriors might need six hard-fought games, or even the full seven, to get past the Rockets. It goes without saying they'd be in a precarious position if they are anything less than that come conference finals time. To be honest, if Curry were to roll his ankle again in the early rounds, they'd have a fight on their hands against Portland, OKC, New Orleans, or maybe even Minnesota if Butler were to be back at full strength.
This current Western playoff group is a minefield. And you don't want to be walking though it hobbled. The Warriors' margin for error has shrunk. It's still bigger than any team in the league can claim, but it's not what it used to be. This team is not invincible, even healthy. The rest of the league has stepped up in closing the gap on them.
You never want a playoff series to be decided by injuries, and here's to hoping that won't be the case this year. But to recognize the Warriors need to be at complete full strength to outlast their most formidable challengers is to recognize just how stacked this league is becoming at the top. Even healthy, Golden State is going to have its hands full. Three titles in four years will not, and should not, come easy.
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