It's hard to avoid talk about injuries when thinking about the Golden State Warriors right now, historic path notwithstanding.
With five different players finding themselves on the injured list at some point in the past week — Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Andre Iguodala, the incomparable Kevon Looney, and Brandon Rush (briefly) — the Warriors have had to do a bit more juggling with their rotation than you'd probably like while looking ahead to the playoffs. And make no mistake that with the team aiming for a record 73 wins, we're past the point of resting for the playoffs — the biggest "concern" (and I put it in quotes because we're not talking something that will short circuit a title run) is really just rust and rhythm.
Thankfully, it looks like the Warriors will be mostly healthy by the time the playoffs roll around, maybe even as soon as tomorrow.
Steve Kerr said both Andrew Bogut (ribs) and Andre Iguodala (ankle) practiced today. Warriors hope they play Tuesday or Thursday.— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) April 4, 2016
But a quick rundown for those who've lost track:
- Kevon Looney, who has a growing cult of fans that might now equate him to the Black Sky of the NBA, is not really a factor anyway but is still recovering nonetheless. The future is ours!
- Festus Ezeli made his return last night against the Portland Trail Blazers after missing 31 games with a left knee injury. Ezeli finished the game with just two points — in dramatic fashion — and three rebounds, but as Kevin Jones of KNBR wrote, "Even though he played only nine minutes in a reduced role, Ezeli's length in the post gives Golden State something they've been missing for the last two months."
- Andrew Bogut missed last night's game after getting injured during Friday night's loss to the Boston Celtics but will reportedly be ready to go for tomorrow night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group reported that, "...Kerr said the 7-foot center's injury is not serious and he should be back on the court Tuesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves."
- Andre Iguodala is still rehabbing from his ankle injury, as described well by Rusty Simmons of the S.F. Chronicle on Friday. Steward also wrote that Iguodala "might return as soon as Tuesday".
And if you're an astute Warriors fan, you can quite easily see how the sum total of those three injuries might be affecting this team: Bogut, Ezeli, and Iguodala are inarguably part of the team's defensive backbone.
How the injuries are affecting the team's defense, rotations
Last week began with Warriors coaches — and quite a few fans — lamenting slippage in the Warriors' defense lately, according to Ron Kroichick of the S.F. Chronicle. There were a number of reasons given for that, but the most concrete one, the one that we as fans could most easily pick up on just by watching the games without having insight into the psyche of the players, was the absence of Iguodala and Ezeli.
Marreese Speights is having a great season, as described in an outstanding article by Todd Whitehead of Nylon Calculus (which suggests that Speights might have played his way into a larger contract than the Warriors can afford), but his defensive inconsistency make him hard to rely upon.
So even with one of Bogut or Ezeli unavailable for a game, the Warriors are hurting for bigs to fill their minutes with any measure of defensive effectiveness. Adam Lauridsen of the San Jose Mercury News did a good job of describing the struggles to find an adequate replacement when those two are off the floor or unavailable.
In the first quarter, the Blazers shot 56% and scored 37 points off 10 assists. They feasted on the pick-and-roll, particularly when Kerr subbed Anderson Varejao for a just-returned Festus Ezeli with roughly 7 minutes left to play in the quarter. As has been the case repeatedly of late, Varejao was helpless on switches and fully targeted by opposing offenses. To start the second quarter, Kerr gave Marreese Speights a run at center, but the Warriors made up little ground. Then, with 6:40 to go in the second, Kerr tweaked his rotation from Friday night, and gave an early extended run to the Warriors’ small-ball switch-everything line-up.
The change was immediate.
The problem is that it's hard to rely on that small ball lineup when Iguodala is also out, as alluded to by Kroichick — his ability to defend a number of positions in the Warriors' switching schemes and handle the ball on offense are part of what allow the Warriors to not only use those small ball lineups without having to rely on weaker defenders but also take some pressure off of Curry.
John Cannon of Crossover Chronicles did a good job of articulating how the Warriors miss Iguodala on both ends, as evidenced by the loss to the Celtics.
The night in Oracle Arena made clear that the loss of Andre Iguodala, which the Warriors have survived as far as wins and losses (9-2) are concerned, has had a substantial impact on this team. The Dubs have been a high-wire act ever since he got hurt, winning games late in the fourth quarter, instead of in the first half or third quarter as they routinely did before. Friday night, Iggy would have calmed down their offense and provided the kind of perimeter defense they needed to keep the Celtics from answering every Warrior basket in the third quarter.
Although Rusty Simmons of the S.F. Chronicle reported that the coaching staff was more pleased by the team's defensive effort on Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards, they're still struggling to get consistent defensive efficiency with these key players out.
It's just one more reason why it's hard to get too concerned about the loss to the Celtics or any number of their other losses.
Cannon's argument, which I agree with, is that the loss to the Celtics was "the most interesting loss in the world" for a number of reasons, including the end of the Warriors' home winning streak, the quest for 73 wins, and an even more intriguing pair of matchups with the San Antonio Spurs coming up. More interesting to me, the Celtics' implemented a defensive scheme that maximized their tough perimeter defenders against the Warriors' stars.
There is a pattern in the games that the Warriors lost: opponents have to have long perimeter defenders that can either fight through or switch screens to slow them down and then hope to find a big offensive game to keep the Warriors on their heels.
There's also another pattern: they've been missing key players in most of them.
So to extrapolate from any one of these losses that the Warriors would lose to much of anyone in a seven-game series (with homecourt advantage) is sort of silly. It's hard to really worry about many of the Warriors' losses when they were missing key players during the course of an 82-game season in which they occasionally get bored, to put it bluntly — yes, they lost and there's no point to a team making excuses, but the constant race to turn every loss into the blueprint for beating a 69-8 team is a bit much.
That's why it's easy to see what Draymond Green was talking about when saying "only three teams really beat us": you can't look at many of those losses and think there were a whole lot of adjustments to be made outside of a) don't play bored or b) get your injured players back.
That said, it's obvious why fans of the Denver Nuggets, for example, would take offense to Green's comments, as described by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs — a win is a win and if you want to start adding asterisks to wins over the last two years, I'm sure there's a whole bunch of people out there
in Cleveland waiting to add some of those to a few Warriors' wins here and there.
More tired 1996 Chicago Bulls vs. 2016 Golden State Warriors talk from legends
I'm not going to spend much time on this because the conversation has become increasingly absurd. So let me just leave these three tweets here for the sake of fueling your hot takes:
Top +/- totals since 93-94. Draymond now the first player ever to top +1000. Klay joins him and Steph in the top 10. pic.twitter.com/NBPLBbyprM— Richard Yannow (@RichardYannow) April 4, 2016
Hot take?: Curry/Green is a better G/F tandem than Jordan/Pippen. And it's not close.— Benjamin Morris (@skepticalsports) March 30, 2016
96 Bulls couldn't sweep Pacers or Sonics, but they'd sweep 2016 Warriors? Sure thing, skip— Jared Stearne (@JaredStearne) April 4, 2016
Random tweets from the week
Scottie Pippen says 1995-96 Bulls would sweep this year's Warriors. https://t.co/f0FDyl0oAk— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) April 3, 2016
On a side note: Curry's really flirting with getting/missing some serious milestones: PER 31.85 (Wilt 31.8), 30ppg, 50.5/45.3/90.3. Sheesh.— Jim Park (@SheridanBlog) March 31, 2016
HB ranks 38th in RPM among SFs. Look it's noisy but reality is half those guys are clearly better than him RN https://t.co/mQX3SanIR7— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) April 2, 2016
There are certainly other links, tweets, vines, and videos that I have missed, so feel free to drop links from this morning in the comments, create a FanShot with links that we can share on our social channels, or write a FanPost if you have a longer commentary to share with the community. There has almost been so much great content in the community sidebars and I've been trying to just refer you there during rather than making these posts any longer with them — please rec the ones you really like so we can promote the best ones to the front page.
And since Kurt Rambis has reminded us all that people other can actually view your "likes" on Twitter, feel free to check up on what I've been keeping track of during the week by following me at @NateP_SBN and letting me know what I've missed.