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Should Warriors be worried about stars' lack of on-court time together?

With Stephen Curry out until the playoffs, Golden State will face the challenge of integrating its stars and role players for a deep playoff run.

Stephen Curry is expected to be ready for the Warriors’ first playoff series, which would begin on April 16 or 17.

SAN FRANCISCO – As his teammates completed their post-practice workouts, Stephen Curry sat on a chair adjacent to the court. His glum expression offered a few signals into his current mood.

The Warriors announced on Friday they will evaluate Curry on April 11 after already missing the past seven games with a sprained ligament in his left foot. The Warriors (48-29) essentially ruled Curry out for their five remaining regular-season games, including the Utah Jazz (46-31) on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass). And although the Warriors said that Curry has made “good progress” with his rehab and plans to begin individual on-court work next week, the Warriors lack clarity if Curry can return before their playoffs begin on either April 16 or 17.

No wonder Curry looked dour during the end of Friday’s practice. It probably did not help that a few reporters attended, which presumably delayed his hope to continue his rehab in the weight room without any cameras present.

Regardless of when Curry returns, the Warriors will enter the playoffs facing a complicated question. Does it matter that Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have only played 11 minutes together this season?

“I don’t think about it. There’s no point,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.  “It’s a waste of energy. I just think about what’s next. If we end up with those guys all together for the first playoff game? Great! Let’s go! I like our chances. But I’m looking forward. I’m not looking backward.”


How might Curry look in his return?

The Warriors hardly expressed concern on Curry’s playoff availability despite lacking specifics on his timetable. Kerr expressed hope Curry could play in one or two regular-season games, but conceded that appeared “kind of a long shot.” Though Kerr described Curry’s recovery as “fine,” he has rehabbed only in the trainer’s room and weight room as opposed to the basketball court. Still, the Warriors maintained confidence it won’t take long for the NBA’s greatest shooter of all time to change the team’s dynamic dramatically.

“I’m not worried about him,” Kerr said. “All it takes is one made shot and he’s back in rhythm.”

The Warriors lack perspective, however, on how long it will take for the group to adjust with having their familiar All-Stars together at once.

Curry, Thompson and Green have won three NBA titles together in five Finals appearances. They likely have enough muscle memory to reunite seamlessly, even if they have all only appeared in one game collectively this season. The Warriors also have key role players from those championship teams that have learned how to play with and without any of their key All-Stars, including Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney and Damion Lee.

“We have the confidence that if we’re healthy, we can play against anybody,” Looney said. “We’re not really worried about a matchup. We feel like we’re versatile enough to match up with anybody.”

Yet, the Warriors have hardly shown the same capability this season with absorbing overlapping injuries to their All-Star players as they have during their championship runs.

While Curry missed a combined 10 regular-season games and six playoff appearances because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee during the 2017-18 season, the Warriors went 4-6 in their last 10 regular-season games. But the Warriors dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in five games in the first round of the playoffs because they had a fully healthy and motivated Kevin Durant, Green, Thompson and Iguodala. Because of that championship depth, the Warriors eliminated the New Orleans Pelicans in five games in the second round while Curry returned with a limited workload. He came off the bench and played only 27 minutes in a Game 2 win before gradually increasing his minutes in Game 3 (29), Game 4 (31) and Game 5 (37). After surviving a seven-game series against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors defended their NBA title by sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in their fourth Finals matchup.

“I think he’ll respond quickly,” Kerr said of Curry during his eventual return. “This is not like starting the season where he doesn’t have a training camp foundation beneath him. He’s been in great shape all year. That doesn’t just go away in a couple of weeks. So, I imagine and know he’ll put all of the work in.”

Is the championship window for the Warriors closing?

How will current Warriors handle Curry’s absence and return?

As for this season? Unlike during their championship years, the Warriors do not have Durant as the ultimate bail-out option. Nor do they have the same continuity.

The Warriors have eight players that have never played with Curry, Thompson and Green together beyond those 11 minutes against the Boston Celtics on March 16 before Celtics guard Marcus Smart inadvertently injured Curry after diving into his legs while chasing a loose ball. Though the Warriors stormed out to a 29-9 record before Thompson’s return, the Warriors have gone 3-10 this season without Curry and have lost six of the past seven games since his injury. If Curry opens the playoffs on a minutes restriction, the Warriors would oversee such a limited workload against either a top first-round opponent (Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets) or dominant second-round opponent (Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies)

“He’s one of the best players in the league. Just having him on the court, everybody is focusing on him. That opens everything for any player on the floor at that time,” Warriors reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica said. “We really miss him, but this is not the reason why we played bad and we lost a couple of games. It’s the way this league is.  It’s tough to win and be consistent. Hopefully when the playoffs start, we have experience from these tough losses when we were playing bad and it’s going to help us.”

Time will tell. No doubt, Curry’s return alone will elevate the Warriors because of his sharp shooting, dependable playmaking and underrated defense. But the overlapping nature of the Warriors’ injuries to their three best players has created varying degrees of turbulence.

With Thompson nursing two season-ending injuries to his left ACL (2019-20) and his right Achilles tendon (2020-21), the Warriors anticipated the five-time All-Star would experience rust. And why wouldn’t he? Thompson missed 175 regular-season games and two Play-In Tournament games through a 941-day span. What the Warriors did not anticipate: that Green would appear in only seven seconds of Thompson’s debut against Cleveland on Jan. 9 because of left calf tightness. Green then missed 31 games because of a lower back injury. Just as Green was completing his second game in a bench role on a minutes restriction, Curry suffered his current injury. Since Curry’s absence, Thompson has averaged 22.8 points albeit on inefficient shooting from the field (41.5%) and inconsistent marks from 3-point range (39.66%). That nearly mirrors what Thompson has averaged since the All-Star break even when Curry played (17.1 points on 40.9% shooting overall; 35.6% from deep).

“Klay has just pressed because he’s been out for so long because he’s so competitive that he wants everything to happen right now,” Kerr said. “I didn’t really connect it to Steph’s absence. I do think that if Steph’s there, Andre’s there, Draymond’s there, things will fall into place easier for Klay. We just got to help him to settle in and not be so anxious to get it all back at once.”

NBABreakdown: Klay Thompson x Draymond Green chemistry

Green experienced similar issues with his own role as a defender and playmaker. So much that Green described his play recently as “terrible” following the Warriors’ loss last week in Washington.  Before Green’s injury, the Warriors led the NBA in defensive rating (101.9). During his absence, the Warriors regressed to ninth (110.4). And since Green’s return, the Warriors have actually dropped to 11th (113.8).

“All of the plays that you see him make are 100% dependent on his physical ability to make those plays. He’s not there yet,” Kerr said. “He admits that. I know he’s going to get there and I know he’s working toward that. I’m really confident as that happens, the team’s performance will come with him.”

Theoretically, Green and Thompson will have knocked off more rust by the time Curry returns. Although the Warriors experienced a 107-103 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday, Kerr became pleased with the team’s improved effort level and execution. He also observed that Green “turned a corner physically.” Although Thompson had only 13 points while shooting 5-for-21 from the field and 1-for-10 from 3-point range, the Warriors believe he will shake off his shooting slump because of his All-Star credentials as well as Green’s improved playmaking. Iguodala has also played in the past two games after missing the previous 21 because of lower back tightness.

But even with the Warriors (48-29) nursing slim leads for the third seed over the Mavericks (48-30) and the fourth seed over the Utah Jazz (46-31), Kerr will prioritize health over maximizing home-court advantage. Kerr considered it “pretty much automatic” that Thompson and Iguodala will sit in part of the Warriors’ remaining back-to-backs that include Utah (Saturday), Sacramento (Sunday), San Antonio (April 9) and New Orleans (10). Kerr considered it “up in the air” on if Green and Otto Porter Jr. would face the same limitations.

“We’re shooting for the highest seed that we can get. We’re trying to win every game, [but] not at the expense of health,” Kerr said. “But as far as concern, you have to play somebody. If we could shoot for a first-round bye, I’d be really concerned. But that’s not the case.”

That puts the onus on the Warriors’ role players that show they can both adjust to Curry’s absence and a limited workload for Thompson and Green as well as when all three play together again.

“Everyone is going to be needed,” Looney said. “We always talk about that one guy on the bench can always come in and change the whole game and change the whole series. Stay ready and be ready for your moment because it’s going to come.”

Which players will fill that spot?

Will it be Looney, who has mitigated the Warriors’ depleted center depth with dependable defense and rebounding? Will it be rookie Jonathan Kuminga, who has shown both hiccups with his learning curve and intrigue with his athleticism? Will it be guard Gary Payton II, who has made what Kerr described as “instant impact” on both ends of the floor?

Perhaps all three. But most of the burden might fall on veteran forward Andrew Wiggins and fourth-year guard Jordan Poole.

Wiggins landed his first All-Star appearance as a starter after excelling as a scorer (17.1 points on 48.1% shooting) and defender (103.2 defensive rating). Since the All-Star break, Wiggins has regressed as a scorer (15 points on 40.1% shooting) and defender (114.8 defensive rating)

“When our team is whole, I think he’s better,” Kerr said. “When the team is right, most players fit into easier roles and most become defined. But I think with our team, with Wigs in particular, we’ve got Draymond, Andre, Steph and Klay and Jordan. Wigs knows exactly what his role is and does a great job of it defending and attacking the rim.”

Jordan Poole is developing nicely, helping to ease the loss of Stephen Curry

As for Poole? Different story. Poole has scored at least 20 points in the last 14 games. The Warriors have become impressed with his consistency as a scorer despite the overlapping injuries to Curry, Thompson and Green. Suns coach Monty Williams even described Poole recently as “one of the league’s top scorers.”

“The difference between day one and now is as dramatic as any player,” Kerr said of Poole. “I’ve ever seen in that amount of time. He’s done a fantastic job whether it’s as a starter or as a bench player.”

Despite the Warriors’ up-and-down season, they still rank high in the league in several statistical categories. Although they rank 13th in scoring (110.8) they are fifth in assists (26.9) and ninth in field-goal percentage (46.7%). Despite the Warriors’ defensive struggles partly during Green’s absence, they still rank third in defensive rating (106.8).

Nonetheless, the Warriors have gone only 9-11 against the top four teams in each conference, including Phoenix (2-2), Memphis (1-3), Dallas (1-3), Boston (1-1), Miami (2-0), Milwaukee (1-1) and Philadelphia (1-1).

The Warriors will soon find out if Curry, Green and Thompson alone can make the difference. Or if their lack of on-court time together will negatively affect them, their teammates or both.

“I don’t really make anything of it because it doesn’t matter,” Kerr said. “It is what it is. We prepare each day and try to get better. There’s nothing we can do about any of that stuff.”

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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