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Suddenly, things are looking up for Warriors again

Series-clinching 114-81 rout over Houston sends Golden State rolling into West semifinals with welcome momentum

POSTED: Apr 28, 2016 11:10 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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— The camera captured Stephen Curry on the bench midway through the second quarter. The image flashed on the video board high above the court, the crowd cheering even a sighting of Curry in street clothes. He looked up to see what the commotion was about and responded with a quick salute, index finger glancing eyebrow.

Curry, in attendance and still very connected. Check.

Wednesday night at Oracle Arena was about reminders. The MVP was close by, in spirit and actual proximity, the Rockets would be no threat to anyone this season until the miserable very end, and the Warriors were surrounded in positives even as they played for the first time since Curry suffered a sprained knee ligament that's scheduled to keep him out at least two weeks.

The upbeat mood returned in the form of a 114-81 Golden State victory and a 4-1 series win with all of 38 minutes of contribution from Curry over two games between an ankle injury and the knee injury that became an urgent concern to the hopes of repeating as champions. There isn't even a way to devalue the accomplishment based on the opponent, not when the Warriors did exactly what they were supposed to do with an average margin of victory of 23.8 points in the 1-8 matchup. They were in control the entire way at home except for a brief scare in the second half of Game 2. It was not expected to be close, and it wasn't.

Order has so been restored that the Warriors are surrounded by new reasons to be encouraged, beyond the old ones (73 wins in the regular season, great offense, very good defense, the experience of the title run a year ago, etc.). That's how fast their world has tilted back.

Sunday -- Curry suffers the knee injury late in the first half of Game 4 on Sunday in Houston and does not return. It is the second time in the series, following the ankle injury in the opener, that he does no make it through a game, in addition to entirely missing two other contests.

We don't know how long he's going to be out. Obviously we're going to miss him, but at the same time there is a lot of basketball to play, and for the next series it's a good momentum booster.

– Shaun Livingston on Stephen Curry

Monday -- Concerns are confirmed. An examination shows Curry has sprained the medial collateral ligament in the right knee, a big enough setback that the Warriors say he won't even be re-evaluated for two weeks. It's partly semantics -- Curry will be in constant contact with the Golden State medical staff, just not scheduled for an official update for two weeks -- but also underlining that he is not expected to miss a couple games. The absence could also drag past the original estimate.

Wednesday -- Klay Thompson makes seven of 11 3-pointers and scores 27 points in 29 minutes, Shaun Livingston has 16 points on seven-for-eight shooting as Curry's replacement at point guard, the Warriors commit only 10 turnovers and recalibrate the mood.

"It's good news for us, but more importantly it's moving forward," Livingston said. "We don't know how long he's going to be out. Obviously we're going to miss him, but at the same time there is a lot of basketball to play, and for the next series it's a good momentum booster."

And about those Western Conference semifinals: It will start here Sunday at the earliest, if the Portland Trail Blazers finish tipping over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, and Tuesday at Oracle if Los Angeles and Portland have a Game 7 on Sunday. The clock will be running on Curry's recovery timeline while potentially knocking off another five days, Thursday through Monday, without missing a game. The schedule once the Western Conference semifinals do start could provide another assist, depending on the spacing between contests to accommodate TV and arena availability in the cities.

The world around the Warriors has also changed dramatically (and for the better) in recent days. The Clippers had a 2-0 lead over the Trail Blazers, after all, and even after losing Game 3 had reason to feel good with Chris Paul at starring and Blake Griffin showing signs of regaining his rhythm after missing 47 games since Christmas (hand, leg injuries and team-mandated suspension). The Clippers at full strength -- with the Warriors down their best player for at least a few games, giving Paul a big edge at point guard -- could have been interesting if the teams met in the semis.

It definitely gives you more confidence, for sure because you know you can do it. You know the blueprint to doing it. So we know what we have to do when he's not out there.

– Draymond Green on winning without Stephen Curry

Then that notion went into a blender. Griffin aggravated his leg injury and was ruled out for the rest of the playoffs, Paul fractured his right hand and was declared out for at least four weeks and the Clippers went from up 2-0 to down 3-2 after losing Wednesday at Staples Center.

For a team supposedly in a difficult spot with the loss of Curry, a lot of things have started to break right for Golden State.

"It definitely gives you more confidence, for sure because you know you can do it," forward Draymond Green said. "You know the blueprint to doing it. So we know what we have to do when he's not out there. Hopefully when he comes back we can continue to do that. But while he's out, we got the blueprint on what it takes to win when he's not out there, and we need to continue to follow that.

"It definitely helps the confidence a bit, and this win tonight, everybody chipped in. It wasn't one or two guys. Obviously Klay heated up. Shaun had a good game. I was able to play well, [Andrew] Bogut played well, Ian [Clark] played well, Brandon Rush played well, Harrison [Barnes] chipped in.

"Everybody who came in, Anderson Varejao, who hasn't played the entire series, came in the game with big minutes. That's a true professional. The gratifying thing about this win is everybody chipped in, and that's what it's got to be about when Steph's not out there."

The Warriors were so impressive in clinching 11 months to the day they beat the Rockets to win the Western Conference title and advance to The Finals for the first time in 40 years that Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Golden State minus Curry is still one of the top two teams in the league. Speaking of noteworthy updates.

"I have no idea where we line up with the rest of the league without Steph," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "It's not my job to do that. That's [the media's] job. But we do feel confident that we can win games without him, but we don't really want to have to. So hopefully Steph will be back soon. In the meantime, we'll have to continue to hold down the fort."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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