Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee missed his seventh straight game Thursday with a right hamstring injury that has been complicated by nerve inflammation. Without Lee, the Warriors were pounded on the boards by the Denver Nuggets, losing 100-99 on a Kenneth Faried floater with 0.5 seconds left.
The Nuggets won the rebounding battle 63-38, grabbing a whopping 25 offensive rebounds that led to 27 second-chance points. Timofey Mozgov did much of the damage, nabbing a career-high 29 boards on the night. Faried did his share as well, securing 17 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Warriors' starting frontcourt duo of Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green had just 10 rebounds combined.
Poor rebounding has been an issue the entire year when Lee has been on the bench. When Lee sits, the Warriors' rebound rates drop across the board. With Lee on the court, Golden State grabs 52.2 percent of the total available rebounds, compared to just 49.5 percent when he sits, per NBA.com's stats page. There's a 2.3 percent difference in defensive rebound rate and a 1.9 percent difference in offensive rebound rate.
That could be a major problem come playoff time, given the Warriors do qualify for the postseason. Getting extra possessions and not allowing extra possessions becomes even more crucial in the playoffs, and rebounding issues affect both of those things. Golden State is currently the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, but they're just a game ahead of the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, and two games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Warriors are in line to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, and the Clippers haven't been all that prolific a rebounding team this season. Still, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have the potential to do some serious damage against an undersized frontcourt featuring Green if Lee is unable to go.
Golden State's other two prospective first-round opponents are the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Both of these teams are in the top half of the NBA in rebound rate, with the Thunder actually on the very top. The Warriors would be behind the eight ball against all these teams even if Lee is around to help the rebounding, but without him, the task would be that much tougher.
Looking in broader terms than just the rebounding, Lee's presence in the lineup has generally been a positive for Golden State. The Warriors' primary lineup of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Lee-Bogut has played a whopping 796 minutes together this season, and they've outscored opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com's stats page. The second-most used lineup of Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Lee-Bogut hasn't been any good, although they've killed it on the boards. And the third-most used unit of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Green-Lee has been superb, outscoring opponents by 35.4 points per 100 possessions, albeit in just 104 minutes.
So just what's the deal with Lee? There has been speculation that he's done for the season, but the power forward said Wednesday that wasn't necessarily the case, according to Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News:
"Reports that say I'm done for the season I think are very premature," said Lee, who has a right hamstring pull complicated by nerve inflammation. "We're just going to see how I'm doing day-to-day. But the important thing is I'm feeling better each day, and the only thing that would be of concern to me is if I was plateauing out or feeling worse and worse. Things are on the right track."
That's certainly good news, although it's no guarantee Lee does play again this season. And while Golden State did have some success without Lee in last year's postseason, there's little doubt it would be preferable for him to be available to suit up in the playoffs.