The Golden State Warriors forever minted themselves as the defining dynasty of this generation by rallying to win their fourth NBA championship in improbable fashion last season. Kevin Durant had moved to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson was no longer playing like an All-Star after suffering consecutive ACL and achilles tears, but Golden State ran through the playoffs anyway because of the breathtaking talent and impossible resolve of Stephen Curry, who finally took home his first Finals MVP award by almost single-handedly willing the Dubs to the title.
The Warriors were expected to mount a staunch championship defense this year even after losing some key role players over the offseason, with Otto Porter Jr. signing in Toronto, Gary Payton II signing in Portland, and Nemanja Bjelica choosing to continue his career in EuroLeague. Golden State would be counting on bigger contributions from their three young lottery picks — James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody — but the general consensus was that the Warriors would be a safe bet to be a factor for the title once again when the playoffs rolled around.
After 35 percent of the season, the Warriors are an under .500 team suddenly facing a crisis: Curry is out for “a few weeks” after suffering a shoulder injury in a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. Golden State’s season very much depends on if it can stay afloat while he’s out.
Make no mistake: Curry’s brilliance is the only thing carrying the Warriors again this season. He’s a leading MVP candidate once again, putting up ridiculous numbers — 30 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per night while connecting on 43.4 percent of the 11.6 three-pointers he attempts per game — that compare favorably to his 2016 campaign when he became the first unanimous MVP in league history. So much has gone wrong in Golden State this year from the very start of training camp, but Curry has been keeping his team alive through a rough stretch. As our Joe Viray wrote last month, Curry is the Warriors’ sole timeline.
If the playoffs started today, Golden State, at 14-15 overall, will be the No. 10 seed in the West and own the final spot in the play-in tournament (meaning they’d have to win two games in a row to get the No. 8 and final seed in the 2023 NBA Playoffs). Where will they be when Curry gets back? Looking at both the standings and the schedule, the road ahead for the Warriors is treacherous.
Golden State has the biggest home/road split in the league, with a 12-2 record at home and a 2-13 record on the road. Well, their first four games without Curry all come away from the Bay against the 76ers, Raptors, Knicks, and Nets.
After that, Golden State plays eight straight home games. The Warriors have to hope they can beat the Hornets, Pistons, and Magic, but the other teams on the schedule all currently own equal or better records than they do.
There’s not much margin for error even at the end of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers sit right behind the Warriors in the standings, and both desperately want to make the playoffs this season. The Utah Jazz could fall out of the playoff mix, but that’s still 11 teams vying for 10 spots. Of course, the Warriors don’t just want to be playing for their lives in the play-in tournament, they want a top-six seed to have a secured playoff berth. Even if Curry played every game, the Warriors were already staring at an uphill climb to get into the top-six of the West given how the upper half of the conference is performing.
This stretch of games without Curry may very well determine if the Warriors get to defend their championship at all in the postseason. It’s going to require Jordan Poole balling out after a really disappointing Nov. It’s going to require Andrew Wiggins to get healthy from his abductor injury and start playing like he did during the 2022 playoffs. It’s going to require vintage performances from Thompson and Draymond Green, and the young core to finally start living up to the hype.
Curry will turn 35 years old in March and is at a point in his career when he should be slowing down. Instead, he remains the sole reason the Warriors are competitive. Golden State is finally about to see how difficult life without Curry can be. Their season depends on being able to stay afloat without him.