Golden State Warriors

Warriors will be without Curry for a bit, but MRI news could’ve been so much worse

The most anxiously awaited MRI results in Bay Area sports history came through about 23 hours after Steph Curry nearly did the splits in Houston, and the news edges pretty close to “best-case scenario” territory.

stephen curry injury update kneeThis leads to several conclusions we can make — some obvious, some not so much. Let’s start with the obvious first.

Stephen Curry didn’t fully tear either cruciate ligament, and that’s a good thing.

Instead of bemoaning the slipperiness of Houston’s floor, everyone should let out a big “phew.” If Curry tore his ACL, we’re talking surgery, no more playoffs, no Olympics, and possibly no Curry until sometime around the All-Star Break next season.

Curry was pretty lucky that his sprain falls into the “1” category. An MCL tear probably wouldn’t have required surgery, but a Grade 2 tear would’ve meant Curry would miss four-to-six weeks, which on the longer side of that timetable would’ve kept him out until the NBA Finals. A Grade 3 tear would’ve kept him out of the playoffs entirely, regardless of how far his team was able to advance without him.

The Warriors are pulling HARD for Rip City tonight.

And not just because the quick-to-flop, quicker-to-complain Clippers are annoying. If L.A. wins tonight in Portland, and both the Clippers and Warriors clinch their first round series on Wednesday, the two teams could face each other in Game 1 of the second round as early as Saturday, and no later than Sunday.

Game 6 — if necessary, for both teams — would take place on Friday. If the Warriors’ and Clippers’ respective first round series are over by Friday night, would the second round series start on Sunday or later in the week, like Tuesday? Marcus Thompson II made an interesting point about the schedule.

Clippers fans would be up in arms if the NBA stalled just to maximize their Curry time. But there’s only about 15 or 16 of them, so the NBA probably couldn’t care less

The Warriors would probably be slight favorites against L.A. if Curry missed the entire series.

ESPN Insider had a piece this morning from Kevin Pelton about the Warriors’ chances if Curry’s injury was a season-ender.

First, Pelton went to NBAWOWY.com and plugged in lineups without Curry. Based on net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), the Warriors aren’t totally screwed … as long as Draymond Green and Klay Thompson never leave the floor.

  • Net rating with Green and Thompson (296 minutes): +6.3
  • Net rating with either Green OR Thompson (340 minutes): -6.2
  • Net rating with neither (638 minutes): -10.8

Here’s some decent news from Pelton:

A better way to estimate Golden State’s level of play without Curry is by using the multiyear version of ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM).

RPM suggests the Warriors are 1.6 points per 100 possessions better than league average on offense without Curry. That rate would made Golden State about the NBA’s eighth best offensive team (tied with Houston).

On defense, the Warriors would rate third in the league, at 4.4 points per 100 possessions better than league average (behind only San Antonio and Atlanta).

So, using the minutes distribution we saw in Games 2 and 3, with Curry out, the Warriors would be about 6.0 points per 100 possessions better than the league average overall. That is a slightly better than Cleveland (at 5.8), and it translates to about 57 wins over a full season.

That might seem like slumming it for the Warriors nowadays, but anyone who’s watched more of the NBA than the last two seasons worth of Warriors games can tell you that 57 wins is pretty danged good.

The Clippers’ plus-5.6 net rating this year was similar to our estimate for the Warriors, suggesting the teams would be close to even on a neutral court. Fortunately for Golden State, they’d have the home-court advantage in the series. As a result, I estimate the Warriors would beat the Clippers a little less than 60 percent of the time.

The injury Curry suffered is consistent with a sprained MCL, and according to Jeff Stotts of Rotowire.com, the average recovery time from a low-grade (or non-severe) MCL injury is a little more than two weeks. Such a timetable would put Curry’s return at somewhere from Games 3 to 5 of a second-round series.

I can’t imagine the Warriors allowing Curry to return for Game 3 of a second round series. They aren’t going to push their franchise player to play through pain that could hinder his game or put him in danger. However, there might be one silver lining about this knee injury — his ankle/foot thing shouldn’t be a problem by the time he’s able to return.

How Warriors perform without Curry could inform their decision on a certain member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harrison Barnes SF 49ers gameMuch of the attention will be focused on individual players heading into a series with the Clippers (assuming they finish off Portland without too much trouble).

— Shaun Livingston will start, and could present an interesting challenge for Chris Paul (who’s been lighting up the Blazers), due to Livingston’s length and defensive prowess.

— The Clippers’ top wings don’t play much defense, which means Klay Thompson (who might see Paul guarding him on occasion), Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes should be able to provide the bulk of the scoring.

— Ian Clark is now a key cog in the rotation.

But how the Warriors perform overall without Curry could have huge long-term ramifications. Remember, there’s a chance that the Warriors will want to remake their roster after this season. One can’t call Curry injury-prone anymore, but the Warriors don’t want to be in a position where they aren’t a viable playoff team without him. And beating the crap out of the Rockets yesterday in the second half, while nice, unfortunately doesn’t prove they can beat good teams without Curry on a consistent basis.

If the role players step into larger roles and do well, “Strength in Numbers” probably shifts from being a marketing slogan to a cemented, let’s-not-mess-with-it team philosophy. If the Warriors can’t protect their home court without Curry, and they lose by double-digits in Los Angeles, they’ll probably want to prevent a Curry-or-nothing situation from repeating itself in the future. And that might mean doing everything they could — which would include saying goodbye to players like Barnes, Livingston, Iguodala, Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli — to land Kevin Durant.

The Durant question is a fun one, but would the Warriors really break up this team if they found a way to repeat, in large part because the guys mentioned in the previous paragraph kept them afloat? Iguodala and Livingston in particular seem like players they’d hate to lose after what they’ve done in this first round series. But if the Warriors get smashed by the Clippers without Curry, to the point where it doesn’t even matter when and if he returns to action, it’s going to be tougher to give a huge contract to Harrison Barnes and say, “Let’s stand pat and hope Curry doesn’t get hurt next year.”

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