The biggest question hanging over the NBA right now is “What does Steph’s injury mean for the playoffs?” I wrote about this in great detail at Can the Warriors win a title without Stephen Curry? with lots of video support.
Here is the very brief version.
The Warriors lost the season series 2-1 against Houston, but it was very close...The difference between the teams was Kevin Durant’s opening night game-winner was a split second late. So the teams were very close in the regular season, and now Houston will have home court advantage.
To favor the healthy Warriors, you have to believe they can beat the historical odds, flip the switch and go to a higher playoff gear; and possibly invoke theories that James Harden and Chris Paul have character flaws exposed in the playoff pressure....
From his track record in the 2016 playoffs, when Curry came back early (in two weeks) from a Grade 1 left MCL sprain, we saw this kind of injury limited Curry’s game.
It severely limited his explosiveness to the rim as seen in his FG% for shots from three feet or less in the playoffs: 2013: 66.7%, 2014: 63.6%, 2015: 70.1%, 2016: 54.0%. He also was also reduced to one dribble pull-up moves on the perimeter and outside of a hot streak at the end of Game 3 in Portland (“I’m Back”) and in Games 6 and 7 vs OKC, he shot quite poorly....
During the Curry-free December, on offense, the Warriors used a steady supply of Kevin Durant power, and expect more of the same until/if Curry returns to effectiveness....
The Warriors don’t typically just give the ball to Durant and clear out for an isolation. This is against coach Steve Kerr’s religion, and it’s more efficient to first see if motion can develop an open spot-up shot or a cut to the basket.
Here are three key plays to look for.
3. Durant as the ballhandler in high pick and roll
2. Durant running the offense from the post in Double Punch2. Durant running the offense from the post in Double Punch
1. Durant runs off-ball in a triple split cut
X-Factor Quinn Cook.... He hasn’t been afraid to take and make off-the-dribble shots and started showing his G-League form. He poured in 25 points against a poor Kings team, then 28 against a worse Suns team, but then surprised people by dropping a line of 20-5-5 against a fully-motivated Spurs defense.
Cook showed that he could score both on-ball in a Curry role, and off-ball in a Klay Thompson role:
With so many unknowns, there’s not much to conclude.... Curry would return to help with the Western Conference Finals, albeit in limited, rusty form. But with the deep West and the absurdly good (regular-season) Houston Rockets waiting with home-court advantage, this will be the Warriors’ most difficult championship run. We should not expect the Warriors to be the favorites anymore, and a year that was lazily written off as boring has become uncertain and exciting.