Stephen Curry is sitting, the Warriors aren’t really scoring, and yet Golden State is still winning.
What happens when Curry and the offense come back?
The defending champions went into the season as favorites to repeat, though Boston and Houston looked like title threats while running off lengthy winning streaks and LeBron James has played some of the best basketball in his career.
Yet the Warriors have shaken off the injury to their two-time MVP and a few others to climb right back in their usual spot atop the NBA standings at 27-7. So as the calendar prepares to change, has anything changed since the preseason?
“I still would say, listen, I’ll be absolutely shocked if somebody beats Golden State, but you know, injuries pop up,” ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said, using Curry’s absence as an example.
“If an injury happens at the wrong time things change, and I think Houston has put themselves in great position, I think San Antonio has withstood the injury to (Kawhi) Leonard better than anyone could have expected, and Cleveland after a terrible start has played terrific basketball.”
Curry has missed nine games with a sprained right ankle and the Warriors said Tuesday he would be re-evaluated Friday. The offense isn’t fully clicking without him, as the Warriors have been held below 100 points three times in the last four games — but they’ve lost only once in his absence.
They have done it by turning themselves into stoppers, leading the league in defensive rating by allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions and limiting the Cavaliers to 32 percent shooting in their NBA Finals rematch on Christmas.
“Well, it helps when you have guys like KD (Kevin Durant) and Draymond (Green) back there to clean up any missed assignments,” All-Star Klay Thompson said. “They’re so good at contesting every shot in the paint, blocking shots. They play with such great toughness.”
If teams can’t beat the Warriors when they’re short-handed, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it when they’re at full strength. But Van Gundy won’t rule out the Rockets, who were wiping out all their opponents until Chris Paul was hurt again after 14 straight victories.
“I think they are an absolute legitimate contender,” Van Gundy said. “I think the Western Conference finals will have the two best teams in it and I think whoever comes out of that will win the championship.”