SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors on Friday moved, at least temporarily, into the post-Stephen Curry era.
They hope it lasts no longer than three-to-four weeks, which would put Curry back in action before the playoffs begin on April 16.
Though coach Steve Kerr said it would be ideal if Curry is able to return “a couple games before” the postseason, he was relieved the injury wasn’t more serious than a sprained left foot ligament and that Curry’s absence could be beneficial.
“The silver lining is that Steph will get a break before the playoffs come,” Kerr said Friday after practice. “Assuming everything goes well, he’ll be ready to roll.
“As far as the team is concerned, it will give us an opportunity to learn how to execute without him, which will come in handy during those minutes during the playoffs when he’s off the floor.
If we can learn to execute a little bit better now, that will serve us well later.”
The Warriors have 12 games to see how most of their roster responds to the rising stakes. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala (who could return next week) have gone through deep postseason runs. As for the rest of team, only Otto Porter Jr. has gotten beyond the first round.
Golden State Warriors
“As the playoffs approach, we’ve just got to simplify things and realize it’s just a game of basketball, something we’ve all been doing since we were kids,” Thompson said. “No matter if the stakes are higher, it’s still a game we’re very familiar with and do very well. You don’t need any extra pressure on yourselves. If you just believe in yourself and your abilities, the greatness will reveal itself, especially come playoff time.”
With 12 games remaining on the schedule, the Warriors are third in the Western Conference standings, 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mavericks and Nuggets, who are tied for fourth place. With the Grizzlies only one game ahead of Golden State, the No. 2 seed remains in play. The Suns, eight games in front Memphis and nine ahead of the Warriors, have pretty much wrapped the No. 1 overall seed.
Given the divide between the top six teams and the rest of the West, No. 2 is much more appealing than No. 3. Getting there is conceivable even without Curry, as the only exceptionally rugged stretch is seeing the Grizzlies, Suns and Jazz over a six-day span beginning March 28.
Jordan Poole, who will start alongside Thompson in the backcourt, is playing marvelously. Draymond is back. Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II, crucial to the team’s defense, returned to practice Friday.
“Incredibly important,” Thompson said of Wiggins and Payton, who are questionable for the game against the Spurs on Sunday. “I’m happy for Gary. I know he doesn’t like sitting out, and the same with Andrew. Especially on the defensive end, they’re going to help us so much.”
The Warriors have been searching for defense for about six weeks. They were No.1 in defensive rating most of the season but are only 17th over that span, dropping to third place.
“We’re going to lock in on becoming the defensive team we were the first two-and-a-half months of the season,” Kerr said. “With Draymond back, there’s no reason why we can’t rediscover our defensive identity while Steph is out.
“We were going to need to do that anyway, so that becomes the focus for these last 12 games.”
Curry’s absence is going to hurt. He’s going to miss at least seven games, probably two or three more and possibly all 12.
His unavailability, however, need not be fatal to a strong finish.
“We have to execute as group to fill those shoes,” Kerr said. “Nobody’s going to actually fill those shoes, but we can do some things execution-wise that we’re going to work on that we need to do. Yeah, we want Wiggs to be more aggressive. We want Jordan and Klay to continue to be aggressive.
“If we run our (offensive system) well and play good defense, we’re going to generate offense out of that.”
Even without Curry, the Warriors are a playoff team. They’ll have to play at that level to generate. Consider the next few weeks their chance to experience the high-intensity games that follow.
There is no better way to prepare than to go through some fire.