PHILADELPHIA – Steph Curry spent a portion of his Friday morning explaining the intricacies of his left shoulder injury to reporters. The near-term rehab will be tricky. Some level of instability in the joint will remain. Reaggravation could mean eventual surgery. But, for now, he’s avoided a procedural fix, which would’ve come attached to a 4-6 month timetable. He’s on the quicker path back, aiming for around three or four weeks.
That leaves the golden window still ajar for a season that has gone sideways for the Warriors. It’s conceivable to believe they could solve enough of their rotational concerns, maybe upgrade around the edges and get a healthy Curry back with plenty of time to return to their contending form. Had Curry needed surgery, that theoretical world would’ve disintegrated.
So this ups the ante over the next month. The Warriors created little margin for error with a 14-15 start before Curry went down. They’re currently 11th in the West. If they fall off a cliff the next few weeks, there might be too much ground to make up.
“This is a very important stretch,” Curry said. “Because you want to maintain as much positivity and belief in what we’re doing as possible and give ourselves a chance to finish the year strong. Looking at that All-Star Break, that sprint to the finish knowing that no team in the West has really separated themselves. So we can talk ourselves into ‘We’re still in good shape.’ But you still have to go out and be a consistent basketball team (without me). I think we can do that.”
Shouldn’t that mean a .500 record is the goal? Win as many as you lose? Tread water until Curry returns.
“That’s always kind of a good soundbite because it gives you something to key on,” Curry said. “But I think where we’re at, we just want to win a road game.”
Is it the goal for the Warriors to maintain a .500 record for when Steph Curry returns?
“That’s always a good soundbite because it gives you something to key on. But where we’re at, we just want to win a road game.” pic.twitter.com/lzqsDBwTxI
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 16, 2022
In their first opportunity, the Warriors tried and failed, losing 118-106 to the 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday night.
But let’s first rewind back to the end of last regular season. Curry missed the final month with a foot sprain. The Warriors survived, going 6-6 in the 12 games he missed. That included five straight wins to close the season, barely securing the third seed and an advantageous playoff path that led to an eventual title.
In the final three wins without Curry, these were Klay Thompson’s point totals: 36, 33, 41. He made 53 percent of his shots and 51 percent of his nearly 14 attempted 3s per game.
“I don’t know,” Thompson said when asked what he remembered about that stretch. “Some close wins. Some tough Ls. Some hard nights. Some great nights. Stuff I’ve been used to over the last 12 years.”
Thompson doesn’t need to be volcanic with Curry out, but he must be relatively productive and can’t be destructively inefficient like he was against the Sixers. Thompson shot just 4 of 17 from the field, turned it over four times and hijacked several possessions trying to shoot himself into a rhythm that never came on a night they needed his offense more than usual.
“His knee was bothering him at shootaround,” Kerr said. “He was questionable before the game. But the guy fights through everything. His effort was there, but the shots weren’t going.”
Andrew Wiggins has missed the last six games with an adductor strain, but is nearing a return. Kerr said there is a chance Wiggins will play in Toronto on Sunday. Draymond Green is also expected back after missing Friday with a quad contusion. That’ll ease the burden some for Thompson.
“I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself,” Thompson said. “I’m going to go out there play my game, trust my teammates. I’m not going to add extra pressure to score a certain amount, carry the team. I’ll just get in my own way.”
Jordan Poole also had a memorable surge to close last regular season. His Friday night in Philadelphia had some flashback vibes. Poole scored 29 points as the starting point guard and lead attacker. He made four 3s, glided into some midrange looks and only really struggled when he too ambitiously attacked Joel Embiid. But it was an overall positive night for Poole and Donte DiVincenzo, who started next to him with Wiggins out.
DiVincenzo made five first quarter 3s, a career-high, and finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He’s been gaining a rhythm the last couple weeks and profiles as a crucial 25-minute depth piece for the next month while Curry recovers.
Once Wiggins and Green return, the Warriors will use a starting lineup of Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Kevon Looney, with DiVincenzo and the emerging Jonathan Kuminga as the highest usage bench players. That’s a capable top seven.
The search for reliable minutes beyond that seems to be taking Kerr in several directions. He once again went to Ty Jerome and Anthony Lamb before Moses Moody against the Sixers. Lamb hit two 3s in a 38-point first quarter, but otherwise wasn’t great. Jerome made four shots and had four assists, a better performance than two nights prior in Indiana. Moody did get 16 minutes and made one of his four 3s. They’ll continue to grapple for opportunity around the edges.
But the bigger late rotation question is materializing in the frontcourt. JaMychal Green missed both of his 3s in a quiet 11-minute stint against the Sixers, while James Wiseman, back from Santa Cruz, gave 11 notable minutes. He had a midrange jumper, an alley oop from DiVincenzo and this designed pick-and-roll action with Poole that beat Embiid and led to a soaring dunk, sending the Warriors’ bench into a frenzy. Curry leaped off the bench and had to grab his shoulder to calm himself during the celebration.
Wiseman throws down a massive slam 😤 pic.twitter.com/tSHnroW3AP
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 17, 2022
But it was the more subtle aspects of Wiseman’s game that appear sharpened after an extended G League stint. He handled himself better in compromising defensive situations, rebounded decently, screened with increased physicality and kept spaced well in the dunker spot underneath the basket.
“They were several plays where they stayed back with him and we got open 3s early in the fourth,” Kerr said. “We had three or four open 3s. One of the reasons we were open is because James was right at the rim as that lob threat. I thought he did a nice job defensively, too, playing cat and mouse on pick-and-roll. He’s gotten a lot better, he’s really picked up a lot the last few weeks with all the practicing in Santa Cruz, the game action, the reps.”
Wiseman will remain with the Warriors through this trip, meaning he will be available against the Raptors, Knicks and Nets. Draymond Green’s return would theoretically bump him out of the rotation, but it’s possible he could grab some of JaMychal Green’s minutes.
“You can see he gives us something we otherwise don’t have – that lob threat, scoring threat around the basket,” Kerr said. “I like being able to play him and have him impacting games that are meaningful. That’s an important part of his development. At the same time, we’re trying to win every game and it’s been a rough go.”
Steve Kerr said James Wiseman will remain with the Warriors through this road trip. Said he’s seen obvious improvements from Wiseman after his G-League stint. Here’s the full soundbite. pic.twitter.com/DkIkzbfPl5
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 17, 2022
The next three weeks are about survival for the Warriors. The Raptors have lost four straight games. There’s an opportunity to steal a road win on Sunday and maybe grab a split in the New York back-to-back.
That’d give them a boost before an eight-game homestand that includes dates against the Pistons, Hornets, Magic and struggling Hawks. The Warriors don’t need to rattle off a hot streak. They just need to avoid a serious swoon that sends them way below .500.
“Withstand the storm,” Thompson said. “We’ve done it before. We had to do it last year.”
It’s better for Steph Curry that it was his left shoulder and not right. He said he will have to deal with managing the injury even once he returns. Mentioned there will always be a level of instability. Compared it to his hand injury a couple years ago. pic.twitter.com/cPmocUI8PM
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 16, 2022
(Top photo of Stephen Curry: David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)