The Warriors enter the NBA playoffs with Stephen Curry banged up and a stretch of ugly play, making them a less formidable opponent to some teams.
- Stephen Curry's injury and the Golden State Warriors' recent sloppy play has some teams believing they are more vulnerable than ever.
- For the first time since the Warriors became the juggernaut they are, they enter the playoffs having to "flip the switch" into their usual level of play.
- With a rash of injuries and tougher competition this year, the Warriors' path to the Finals might be tougher than ever.
The Golden State Warriors have looked sloppier than usual in recent months thanks to a rash of injuries and general malaise, and now the rest of the NBA may see them as more vulnerable than ever.
The Warriors enter the NBA playoffs having lost 10 of their last 17 games, with their offense and defense both ranking below league average over that span. In addition, Stephen Curry will be out at least one round while recovering from a sprained MCL.
Curry's injury and the Warriors' recent disorder has helped other Western Conference teams' confidence heading into the postseason, according to ESPN's Zach Lowe.
On his podcast, "The Lowe Post," Lowe said some teams who would rather face the Warriors right now, without Curry and coming off a sloppy finish to the season, than some other teams.
"I was talking to several coaches and execs from teams in the West morass from 3-9 — the fear factor for the Warriors without Curry does not exist," Lowe said. "I mean, there are people who'd say, 'I'd rather play the Warriors right now in the first round than the Thunder or the Jazz.'"
Lowe emphasized that those teams specifically meant for a first-round series, which Curry will miss.
While Curry is expected to return this postseason, the growing belief that the Warriors are vulnerable raises broader questions about how they'll round into form when the playoffs tip off on Saturday.
When the Warriors signed Kevin Durant in 2016, there was a prevailing belief that they were injury-proof — meaning they had enough talent that even if one of their best players got hurt, they could still succeed.
Curry, the engine of the Warriors, whose skill set helps generate the entire offense, apparently changes that. While Durant is as close to un-guardable as there is in the league, and Klay Thompson can keep a defense honest with his shooting range, without the threat of Curry pulling up from 30 feet and dragging opponents away from the basket, the threat of the Warriors changes.
Additionally, for the first time since the Warriors juggernaut formed, they enter the playoffs with questions about "flipping the switch." Think back to 2016, when the Warriors had just capped off a historic 73-9 season, or to 2017 when the most significant question entering the playoffs was if they would lose a single game (they went 16-1 en route to the championship). Before this season began, many thought the Warriors winning the championship was all but ensured.
After slogging through the 2017-18 season, can they round into form on a moment's notice and become the fast-paced, swarming, and lethal team we've known them to be?
Most in the NBA world believe the answer is yes, mainly because the Warriors have noted all season long that this year would be a grind as they wait for the playoffs, their true season, to begin. The Warriors' combination of talent, experience, and coaching won't allow them to play in the playoffs the way they have over the previous month.
However, there's risk in playing half-heartedly for long stretches and then trying to turn it on when needed. One league source said the danger in the "flip-the-switch" mentality is that it lowers a team's ceiling — because a team hasn't been playing to their proper level, by the time they try to, they can't be as good as they should be. That is, the repetitions needed to be that good aren't there.
And the danger is that this year, there might be teams good enough to make the Warriors pay for not being 100%. They'll face the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs in the first round, a team so disciplined and well-coached that they can make any series a challenge. Should they advance, they'll play the winner of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder series, potentially setting up a situation where they face a star-studded, motivated Thunder team or a gritty, physical Jazz team that just beat them by 40 points in the final game of the season.
And at the end of the tunnel, they may face the Houston Rockets, the best team in the NBA this season that has slowly turned skeptics into believers.
Add Curry's injury to this and the questions about how healthy he'll be when he returns and how quickly the team can jell again, and the Warriors' championship hopes might be dimmer than we're used to seeing.