SportsPulse: While Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr feels Steph Curry won’t be ready for the start of the NBA playoffs, the perennial All-Star is ready to prove him wrong. USA TODAY
OAKLAND — This Steph Curry situation is a major problem for the Golden State Warriors.
Try as the ailing star might have on Sunday to put a positive spin on the matter, when he shared his plan to prove Steve Kerr wrong after the Warriors coach announced that the two-time MVP would miss the first round of the playoffs with the Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee, this is as ugly as it get for a defending champion. Anyone who remembers the 2016 playoffs can see that much.
Remember that MCL sprain that sidelined Curry for 15 days from late in that first round series against Houston through Game Three of the second round against Portland, the one that even his personal trainer admitted affected his game all the way until that ill-fated Finals end against Cleveland in which the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead? That was a Grade 1, and that now becomes the cautionary tale that will serve as the what-not-to-do blueprint for Curry & Co.
When Curry was asked on Sunday if he believes he came back too early during that postseason run, he darted past the question as if it was a defender on the break.
“It don’t matter,” he said with a shrug.
Except that it really, really does.
Curry knows it. Longtime Warriors trainer Chelsea Lane knows it. And Kerr, who has said so many times recently that Curry’s voice in matters like these isn’t nearly as vital as Lane’s, most certainly knows it.
They all know that Curry coming back too early is a recipe for a failed repeat. Then again, Curry staying out too long might be their death knell, too.
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Such is life in the Western Conference this season — especially when you’re down two other All-Stars as it is.
While Kevin Durant (ribs) and Klay Thompson (thumb fracture) are expected to be back in plenty of time before the end of the regular season, it stands to reason that they’ll be out of rhythm. With that in mind, consider the possible first-round opponents (all seven of these teams are separated by three games or fewer in the all-important loss column): the Oklahoma City Thunder (who have three future Hall of Famers in Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and are 22-11 since Jan. 23), the New Orleans Pelicans (who have won 15 of their last 20 games), the Utah Jazz (who downed the depleted Warriors, 110-91, on Sunday night and have won 23 of their past 27 games), the Minnesota Timberwolves (who should get four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler back from injury soon), the San Antonio Spurs (who have won six of seven and could get Kawhi Leonard back soon), the Denver Nuggets (who have gone 17-10 since Jan. 22), or the Los Angeles Clippers (who are 22-13 since Jan. 8).
There’s not a playoff pushover in the bunch. And while Curry made it clear that the end game remains the same, he knows all too well why it won’t be nearly as easy as they’d hoped.
“We’re all going through individual things, but at the end of the day I don’t think any of this is going to shake us from our ultimate goal of winning a championship,” Curry said. “And at that point, we’ll look back on all these kind of instances and kind of just laugh about them and understand that, I think, at the end of the day it can make us stronger, it can give us a sense of urgency, and kind of jolt the system as we go into the playoffs. So as guys start to slowly come back and our team starts to get back to full strength, we can use this to our advantage, I think, and kind of galvanize the team and really focus in on what it’s going to take to win another championship.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.