After finishing with the best regular season record in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors’ journey back to the Finals hit a bump in the road when guard Stephen Curry sprained his right MCL in Game 4 of his team’s first-round series against the Houston Rockets.
With the Warriors beginning the Western Conference semifinals Sunday at home against the Portland Trail Blazers, Curry’s injury continues to change the dynamic of this year's playoffs. Here is a look at how Golden State's potential opponents benefit from the injury to the likely MVP, who is expected to return around May 9.
Portland Trail Blazers
After knocking off an injured Clippers team in six games, the Trail Blazers will get a crack at the Warriors sans-Curry for at least four or five games. Although the Warriors took three of the four regular-season match-ups from Portland, the Trail Blazers did send a message when they crushed Golden State 137-102 after the All-Star Break. Guard Damian Lillard will be the biggest beneficiary of Curry's absence and will have a clear advantage in the backcourt against Shaun Livingston.
Curry's absence will certainly help the Blazers on defense, but there is much work to be done as Portland allowed almost 124 points per game to the Warriors in four contests this season. Golden State will still be able to turn to Klay Thompson for scoring and should be able to use its fluid ball movement to take advantage of Portland's weaknesses on defense. The Blazers will need the tandem of Lillard and C.J. McCollum to shoot them at least one victory at Oracle Arena if they hope to stay competitive in the series, but it's tough to see Portland pulling off the upset even without Curry.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Although the Thunder are coming off a 124-92 beatdown at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of their series, Oklahoma City would benefit greatly from a series against a Curry-less Warriors team. After all, it took a deep three from the reigning MVP for the Warriors to topple the Thunder in late February.
Oklahoma City's main issue against Golden State this season has been its inability to defend. Without Curry, the Thunder would be equipped to stop the Warriors by putting guard Andre Roberson on Thompson and throwing different defenders at forward Draymond Green. One of the biggest benefits for Oklahoma City would be a lighter load defensively for all-star Russell Westbrook. Given the team's reliance on either Kevin Durant or Westbrook on the court at all times throughout the game, exerting less energy defensively against the Warriors could translate to better offense for a potentially-explosive Thunder squad. Before Oklahoma City can begin to think about a matchup with the defending champions, it will need to counter with a solid effort in Game 2 against the Spurs on Monday.
San Antonio Spurs
Despite finishing 67-15 in the regular season, the Spurs were thoroughly overshadowed all season long by the Warriors historic run. But without Curry, San Antonio would have to love its chances at reaching the NBA Finals for the third time in four years. The Spurs took one of their four regular-season match-ups with Golden State, but have the swarming defense necessary to counter the Warriors attack in the slower, half-court pace of the playoffs.
In a matchup without Curry, Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard would likely switch to defending Thompson. This benefits the Spurs in a big way as the slower Tony Parker would be able to hide on defense in a matchup up against the less-explosive Livingston. With the duo of Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge securing the interior, San Antonio is capable of clogging the paint and forcing the Warriors into contested perimeter shots. Although Golden State has showcased its ability to stay afloat without Curry, a matchup against the Spurs without the three-point marksman would be a tall task. Luckily, it appears that the Warriors will definitely have the guard back in the rotation by the time a series without San Antonio would begin.