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The status of Steph Curry’s left knee will be the story to watch as the NBA heads to the finish line of the regular season, with the playoffs around the next bend.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced Sunday that there is “no way” Curry plays in the first round of the playoffs after suffering what was diagnosed as a Grade-2 MCL sprain.
The Curry Effect should not minimized. When he plays, the Warriors are 41-10. In he 22 games Golden State has played without Curry, it is 13-9.
Further, when the two-time former NBA Most Valuable Player plays, the Warriors’ offensive rating is a historic 120.4. When Curry does not play, that rating tumbles to 106.2, which would stand just 16th in the league.
Fellow All-Stars Kevin Durant (rib strain), Klay Thompson (right thumb fracture) and Draymond Green (pelvic bruise) are also out, though all are expected back for the tipoff of the postseason.
No matter what happens in Golden State’s final nine games, it’s almost a lock that it finishes as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, behind the Houston Rockets.
Which would mean the Warriors (54-19) would match up with the No. 7 seed in the West in a first-round playoff series.
Entering play Monday, there are seven teams within four games of one another in the West, with 10 or less games to play.
With that in mind, how many of those teams are a threat to the Curry-less defending-champion Warriors?
Let’s take a look…
Oklahoma City Thunder
Record — 44-31.
Current seed — No. 4.
The skinny — For non-Warriors fans, the Thunder would be the most delicious of opponents to take on Golden State without Curry. Paul George would draw the assignment of checking Durant, but without Curry, Russell Westbrook would not have to spend nearly the normal energy on the defensive end.
Steven Adams would present huge problem inside for Golden State, while Carmelo Anthony, though his star has begun to fade, is still Carmelo.
If OKC had not lost defensive stud Andre Roberson to a torn left patellar tendon earlier this season at Detroit, this matchup could have really been something to see.
New Orleans Pelicans
Record — 43-31.
Current seed — No. 5.
The skinny — If only Boogie Cousins had not suffered torn Achilles’ tendon during a game in Houston and been lost for the season, this potential matchup would be a lot more intriguing.
As it stands, though, Anthony Davis would be a greyhound in an arena filled with alleycats for the Pelicans. When New Orleans squared off against the Golden State team that went a historic 73-9 in 2015 in the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors swept them.
Through no fault of Davis, though. In only his third season in the league, Davis terrorized the Warriors — most notably, Green — by averaging 31.5 points, 11.0 boards and 3.0 blocks in the four games, while shooting 54 percent.
Since then, Davis has gotten even better, expanding his game in terms of shooting range and his ball skills, while Green is not the same defensive player he once was.
The issue for the Pelicans would be there’s nothing behind Davis that frightens the Warriors. They wouldn’t even bother guarding point guard Rajon Rondo — who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat — making it easier to throw two guys at Davis whenever he gets his mitts on the basketball, and Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic are not consistent enough.
San Antonio Spurs
Record — 43-31.
Current seed — No. 6.
The skinny — There are really TWO Spurs teams to consider when it comes to potentially matching up with the Warriors — the one with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup and the one without him.
With Leonard, who has played only nine games for San Antonio this season, San Antonio would prove to be a much more effective protagonist to Golden State. A career 38.6-percent shooter from deep, his presence on the offensive end would create much-needed space for LaMarcus Aldridge in the post and at the elbows.
Without Leonard, the Spurs would like be but a slight bump in the road to the Warriors. Given the continued uncertainty of Leonard’s status, not much would expected should he not choose to answer the bell.
Record — 42-32.
Current seed — No. 7.
The skinny — If the Timberwolves were to get a healthy Jimmy Butler back for the playoffs to combine with the one guy Golden State would not have an answer for — Karl-Anthony Towns — this matchup would at least be entertaining.
However, it remains to be seen what version of Butler will be available, which means the Warriors, much to the relief of Green — who would be tasked with attempting to at least get into the way of Towns — would be able to focus their defensive gameplan on the T-Wolves big man.
The main issue for Minnesota, as always, is its inability (or is it unwillingness?) to play any type of defense. Despite a tough, hard-nosed defensive concept being part of coach Tom Thibodeau’s DNA, the T-Wolves would likely be carved up by the Warriors’ constant motion and ball movement.
Record — 42-32.
Current seed — No. 8.
The skinny — The Jazz, and their fans, have no love for the Warriors. In fact, they despise them. Remember the Golden State players taking shots at Salt Lake City for its lack nightlife? You can bet the Utah fans sure do.
Beyond that, though, center Rudy Gobert anchors a strong defense, and the Jazz have several 3-and-D guys, including former Cavalier Jae Crowder, who has been rejuvenated since the deadline-day deal that sent him to Utah, to at least make things difficult on the offensive end for Golden State.
Utah’s problem with a potential matchup with Golden State would be the exact opposite of that of Minnesota — aside from sensational rookie , the Jazz simply don’t have enough weapons to put much concern into the minds of the Warriors.
Record — 40-33.
Current seed — No. 9.
The skinny — The Nuggets are 1.5 games behind Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot entering play today. Center Nikola Jokic would be the focal point of Denver’s attack, his versatile offensive game pulling Golden State big guys out of the paint, thereby creating driving lanes for the likes of guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
Paul Millsap should be able to be counted on to produce much more than he has and neither he nor Wilson Chandler would be good enough to bother Durant.
The Nuggets are similar to the Timberwolves — they have a versatile big man who can cause Golden State problems — but they are so abysmal on the defensive end of the floor this would likely be a quick series.
Los Angeles Clippers
Record — 39-34.
Current seed — No. 10.
The skinny — The Clippers were no match for the Warriors when they had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to go along with center DeAndre Jordan.
With Paul (Houston) and Griffin (Detroit) both have been peddled off, it leaves only Jordan and the league’s top scorer off the bench, Lou Williams, as offensive threats.
In other words, this potential matchup with Golden State would likely be the least-competitive of all the possible series.