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USATSI

On Monday night, Stephen Curry nuked the Denver Nuggets for 53 points on 10-of-18 shooting from 3 in leading the Golden State Warriors to a 116-107 victory. In doing so, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain to become the Warriors' all-time leading scorer. It was Curry's seventh career game with at least 50 points and 10 made 3s, five more than anyone else in league history (Klay Thompson and James Harden each have two). 

Removing the 50-point filter, it was Curry's 18th career game with at least 10 made 3-pointers, which is 13 more than the next closest player -- Thompson at five. It was also Curry's seventh consecutive game with at least 30 points, the longest streak in the league this season. There's also this:

Since he returned from his tailbone injury, Curry is averaging 38.4 points on 54/46/91 shooting splits over seven games. Since the beginning of April, he's averaging 39.5 points on 55/46/92 splits. Since the start of March, he's averaging 34.9 points on 52/44/92 splits. Across the board, all those marks lead the league by a laughable margin. 

All of which is to say, Curry, for all the talk -- legitimate or not -- about how he was going to be exposed this season without Thompson and Kevin Durant by his side, might very well be reopening his case as the best player in the world. LeBron James, for most people's money, sits on the throne. But let's not forget that LeBron missed the playoffs the last time he had to go through the Western Conference without a A-list sidekick. That's not a knock. It's just the truth. 

Curry might miss the playoffs himself. We'll see. There's a lot of time to go. What we know is that to this point, Curry has made a downright bad team a sleepy threat. He's not going to win MVP, but really, who has actually been more valuable in 2020-21? The Warriors are 1-6 without Curry this season. He recently sat out the back end of a back-to-back, and the Warriors lost by 53 points to the 21-win Raptors.

That Curry has this Warriors team -- with effectively zero spacing and no second scoring or shooting threat that defenses even halfway fear -- in the playoff hunt is a borderline basketball miracle, and the truth is, Golden State's record probably should be even better. 

Steve Kerr has taken way too long to embrace the idea that Curry needs to have the ball in his hands as often as possible. In the name of preservation, he has resisted playing Curry extra fourth-quarter minutes in tight games, which has almost certainly cost the Warriors a handful of wins. But he's coming around. 

Last Wednesday, Kerr, rather than waiting until his typical six-minute mark, reinserted Curry with 8:09 remaining in the fourth quarter against the Bucks. At the time, the Warriors were trailing by nine. They won the final eight minutes by 10, with Curry scoring 11 of his 41 over that stretch. The Warriors won by one. 

That's how tight a wire the Warriors are walking. There is no margin for error. Trying to balance rookie James Wiseman's development with actual winning was killing the Warriors, who entering Monday went from a sixth-percentile offense, per Cleaning the Glass, with Wiseman and Curry on the floor together, to the 95th percentile when Curry got to play with literally any other four players. 

That might not be a problem for the rest of the season. Wiseman reportedly has a torn meniscus and likely done for the year. On Monday, we saw that when the Warriors simply give Curry the ball and surround him with even halfway-competent lineups, they are a dangerous team. We've seen that over a handful of stretches this season. Curry is a one-man wrecking crew. 

You can't give defenses steady looks, which is to say you can't just run pick-and-roll, because they'll figure out how to blitz and trap Curry and force the ball out of his hands. But you can mix up your attacks while keeping the ball predominantly in Curry's hands. Pick-and-roll. Isolations. Dribble handoffs. Sometimes we talk so much about Curry's off-ball gravity that we forget he can just break defenses the old-fashioned way, too. Cut out all the movement and just give him the ball. He'll get buckets. 

Curry doesn't have to stop playing off the ball altogether. He can use his Energizer bunny movement by giving it up and quickly relocating rather than navigating a maze of screens, which gives defenses easy opportunities to switch off ball while relying on subpar passers.

When the Warriors do that, there is no defense for Curry, who is capable of taking the postseason by storm. Are the Warriors going to compete for a title? No chance. If the play-in series were to start today, and seeds were to hold, the Warriors would have to win four straight games against the Spurs and Grizzlies to claim the No. 8 seed. That's a tough road, but when Curry gets into shot-hunting mode, the Warriors are better than both those teams. 

Besides that, they're only three games back of the Grizzlies and two games back of the Spurs in the loss column. There's plenty of time to catch them both, and they play Memphis on the final day of the regular season if it comes to that. There remains a viable route to the Warriors only having to win one play-in game to claim the No. 8 seed. 

And if they were to grab that No. 8 seed, look out. As it stands they would face the Jazz in the first round. I don't think they would win that series, but this is not a team the Jazz, or anyone else for that matter, would want to play in the first round. Stephen Curry is a nightmare. When maximized, he can single-handedly destroy far superior teams and make any series that should be a mismatch way too close for comfort.