Tuesday, March 27, 2018

With or without Curry, Warriors' playoff plight is dicey

Steve Kerr on Tuesday night stepped to the podium in the Media Room in the bowels of Oracle Arena and raised the roof with an update on the health of injured two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.
It was like telling the whole world that Barack Obama is moving back into the White House’s starting lineup next month.
“I think just watching him today I’m ready to announce that he will actually play in the first round. I’ve changed my mind on that,” Kerr said.
Wait. It’s not April Fools Day yet is it? Seriously? Steph Curry, who Kerr said on Sunday would not suit up  for the first round of the NBA Playoffs, has in a Wayne’s World-like proclamation gone from “no way” to “way” 48 hours later!?
Wait. Look close. Kerr’s tongue was squarely and firmly in cheek. He was joking, people!
When it comes to injured players – and the Warriors seemingly have a Titanic-sized boatload of them -- negotiating their return to the lineup, Kerr made it clear who is judge, jury, and jumping center.
“It takes two to negotiate so there’s actually zero negotiation,” quipped Kerr, sliding tongue out of cheek. “The player might say `I’d like to play’ and I say `You’re not’ and that’s the end of it.”
Warriors fans wish differently. When it comes to the rash of injuries dogging their team, they pray that it will all end soon before the team collides with the Houston Rockets, easily the most consistent, persistent team in the NBA this season.
Hence the NBA playoffs are now but three weeks away and the plight of the defending champions is rather simple.
Clap on. Clap off.
The consensus seems to be that the Warriors – if and when healthy – can power up for the playoffs and make another run at the NBA Finals by flicking on the proverbial PG&E switch. That may be true and remains to be seen, but given the injuries and inconsistencies this season, the team could pull a collective muscle reaching for the wall.
Last night Kerr’s starting lineup  -- his 24th different starting lineup this year compared to eight his first year four years ago -- consisted of the Drab Five --  a quintet of players with a grand total of 29 NBA playoff games in their careers. The four starters currently missing from the Warriors lineup – Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green – have started 327.
Of course, Durant (incomplete ribs cartilage fracture), Thompson (fractured right thumb) and Green (cold and flu season) are expected to rejoin the starting lineup as early as this week, which will lower the collective anxiety level of Dub Nation from Game of Thrones-like to SpongeBob SquarePants.
If the Master Plan goes according to Master Plan, the Warriors will regain their rhythm without missing a beat and set the cocky Rockets, the NBA World and Charles Barkley back on their axis. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are akin to someone in Section 220 winning the 50/50 Raffle at Oracle with one ticket.
Here is the flaw with that plan. The Warriors normal starting five has played together in only 32 games this season (with a not-awe-inspiring 22-10 record when they do) and they haven’t all started at the same time since Valentine’s Day. Furthermore, Kerr’s wobbly bench badly needs a realignment. He has not had the benefit of having his regular bench rotation in place since February 24 when the Warriors beat the Oklahoma Thunder 112-80 in Oracle and had a six-game lead over the Rockets in the Western Conference.
Entering last night’s loss against the Indiana Pacers – the team’s sixth defeat in its last nine games -- the Warriors trailed the Rockets by six games, a swing of 12 games in a matter of weeks. Stormy Daniels has had a better month than the Warriors.
Yes, the Warriors have been missing their big guns, but they have had too many bad losses lately for Bob Fitzgerald to offer an alibi. A 17-point defeat at Portland, a loss at home to Sacramento, and an awful 19-point embarrassment at Oracle at the hands of the Utah Jazz, a possible first-round playoff opponent. The Warriors can easily dismiss those losses as being out of sync, but look at the Boston Celtics the past week. Without Kyrie Irving and with guys named Yabusele, Ojeleye, Larkin, and Nader coming off the bench, the Celtics came from behind in the second half to win at Portland, at Sacramento and they play the Jazz in Salt Lake City tonight.
The Celtics, the likely No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, are more playoff ready right now than the Warriors, the likely No. 2 seed in the West. The Celtics, though shorthanded, somehow continue to grind out wins. The Warriors, meanwhile, can’t keep leads and have lost their edge. Their used to be praised for their explosiveness. Now they are being praised for their “effort.”
“Two weeks ago it felt more natural trying to give guys some rest,” Kerr said after his team blew a 15-point first-half lead to the Pacers. “It’s felt abnormal the past two weeks.”
Kerr – and Warriors fans – long for a return to normalcy when threes reign and the Dubs impose pain.
The belief is when Durant, Thompson, and Green all return to the starting lineup and Curry falls into place in the second round, the Warriors will have their ducks in a row and regain the mojo it will take to shed the Rockets and return to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
The belief is the bench, once everyone returns to their accustomed roles, will provide positive reinforcements instead of defensively challenged Nick Young and the island of misfit toys.
The belief is everything’s going to be all right.
Warriors motto for the NBA playoffs this year: You better believe. Clap on.