Mark Jackson has many catchphrases, but he says one more frequently than any other: “We’re a no-excuse basketball team.” Now that his team is without David Lee for the rest of the playoffs, sticking to that mantra will be more difficult than ever.
The Golden State Warriors announced the MRI results, and they aren’t good. Lee suffered a complete tear of his right hip flexor in Game 1, an injury he tried to play through but couldn’t for obvious reasons.
Lee says he should be ready for training camp, but the Warriors still have a series to play. Already facing a 1-0 deficit, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for Golden State to defeat a team that went into this series with more depth before Lee clutched his right hip and hobbled off the floor. However, one can almost hear Jackson saying this: our guys don’t have time for excuses. There’s only time to scramble and figure out a way to compete without their All-Star power forward. Several key Warriors must take advantage of the opportunities presented by Lee’s injury if they want their season to stretch past this upcoming week.
It starts with him, since he’ll start and play more minutes than he has since he started for the Hornets in the first round against the Lakers in the 2011 playoffs. Landry can provide points and rebounds like Lee, and they both play similarly on defense (translation: not all that effectively). The Warriors will miss the pick-and-roll game between Curry and Lee, so Landry will have to score in other ways. He’ll need to shoot better than he did yesterday from the outside, and his goal should be five offensive rebounds a game.
Opportunity: $$$ — Landry has a $4 million player option that he was probably going to have to exercise. If he goes off for 20/10 every night for the rest of this series (and beyond?), he could get a starting job somewhere next season.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss has been harping on this for a while, and I agree — there was no reason for Jackson to avoid trying Barnes in the power forward role with Lee or Landry at center when Andrew Bogut sits. Now it’s time to force Barnes to play bigger than usual.
Opportunity: Show the world his reputation as a passive player who disappears for long stretches and doesn’t take advantage of his talent couldn’t be more wrong. It’s hard to blame Barnes for taking a subsidiary role as a rookie with Curry, Lee, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack around. Now is his time to show what he can do.
It would be nearly impossible to play better on the defensive end than Bogut did yesterday, particularly in the second half. Bogut has ceded nearly all offensive responsibilities to the other talented scorers on the team, but now he must do all he can to provide some interior scoring. Getting to the line would be nice, too.
Opportunity: Increase his confidence level on the offensive end, which has been shaken this season due to hindered mobility. This is a chance to further remind Warriors fans why they shouldn’t miss Monta Ellis.
Despite his inability to stop Andre Miller at the end of yesterday’s game in what was a ridiculously difficult assignment for a rookie (and proof of how much Mark Jackson trusts him), Green has nothing to hang his head about. In four and a half minutes he made a layup and grabbed three rebounds, but his poise was more impressive. It isn’t easy playing in your first playoff game (just ask Curry), and Green was up to the test in limited time. He’ll surely get more minutes now.
Opportunity: Contribute in ways the Nuggets never saw coming, as well as raise his status going into next season. No matter what happens in this series, Jackson will remember who rose to the occasion and which players let the moment get too big.
How many points will Curry need to score with Lee missing? Over 30? Over 40? Whatever that number is, Curry is certainly capable. It’s probably more about points produced all around for Curry, including assists. Anyone who’s watched the NBA this season knows that double-teaming Curry is a logical strategy, but it’s not like the team is devoid of supporting scorers. Thompson effectively put the Warriors in the lead in the first half of Game 1, and Jarrett Jack won’t continue to make 25% of his shots. But with Lee out, whether or not Golden State pulls off what would be a near-legendary upset falls on his shoulders. Fair or not, that’s the life of a star.
Opportunity: Take away the ambiguity in regards to this team’s hierarchy. Curry is the team’s best player and capable of leading a team. Lee called himself one of this team’s leaders, and said he’d continue in that role in the playoffs. But the guy who wins all those pregame footraces with Lee really should be this team’s alpha dog. If Curry is up to the challenge Lee’s injury presents, he’ll be the living embodiment of Jackson’s “no excuse” philosophy and he’ll quiet those who say the Warriors are one superstar away from becoming a legitimate title contender.