If there’s ever a time you don’t want your all-world point guard to go down with a leg injury, it’s probably with less than a month to go before you’re expected to make a deep playoff push. This is, however, the fate of a couple teams in the NBA, with perhaps none more crucial than Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. A case can be made that the Boston Celtics, the East’s two-seed who just lost their own star guard for at least a few weeks (though perhaps much longer than that), are in an eerily similar predicament to the Warriors’ and Curry’s MCL woes. And that case would probably be a strong one, save for one aspect: Expectations. The fact of the matter is, even with a fully healthy Kyrie Irving in the playoffs, nobody knows how deep the Celtics can go. They lack the acumen and precedent, Irving included. If Irving was healthy and the playoffs began today, there would still be some questions as to whether Boston could so easily dispose of an exciting young Milwaukee team, let alone dominate against the Raptors and the Cavaliers when those match-ups inevitably present themselves. For the Warriors, expectation is the least of their worries. With a fully healthy team, the belief that they’d cruise to at least the conference semi-finals was more or less a given. It was, at the very least, a well-earned expectation. So now what can we expect?
3. Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers could play anyone from the eighth-seeded Jazz (42-32) to the currently fourth-seeded Thunder (44-31) depending on how the next two weeks shake out. Regardless, Portland deserves to have the third spot in the West and has earned Dark Horse contender status for a deep Finals run, a thought made all the more compelling by the many unknowns surrounding Curry’s return and subsequent performance. While guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have proven that they can go shot for shot with any opposing tandem in the league, it will come down to whether Portland’s bench depth can hold its own with units like San Antonio, Minnesota and yes, Golden State. They’re a class below the very best right now, but they’ve proven that they belong in the conversation.
2. Houston Rockets
If you can’t tell already, acumen and experience mean a lot more to me than a win-loss record. Houston just doesn’t have that mystique yet. They’re easily the most exciting team to watch come this year’s playoffs for that very reason — there’s a very real suspense to whether Harden take it to the next level against elite competition, to see if Chris Paul can top his Hall of Fame career off with a Finals appearance, to see if D’Antoni’s offensive genius can finally break through the class ceiling of playoff fortune. And they’re a good team, a really good team, perhaps the perfect conference finals foil to Golden State. They just haven’t earned the right to be a favorite yet, even at their best.
1. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors, with or without Curry, are a dynasty in the making as far as anyone should be concerned. They are the 90s Chicago Bulls, they are the Lakers of the early 2000s, they are the favorite until proven otherwise, and they’re built to be that for the foreseeable future. The strength of the West now and over the past decade shouldn’t be questioned; there’s just nothing easy about doing what the Warriors have done. (Okay, alright, Kevin Durant helps a bit.) While Curry hasn’t ruled out playing in the first-round, which is set to begin on April 14th, a first-round exit wouldn’t be inconceivable. It should, however, be considered highly unlikely. Kevin Durant will do what Kevin Durant does, dominating on both sides of the ball. Klay Thompson will find his shot, and Draymond Green will “slip” and elbow Ricky Rubio into the third row. Then Curry will come back, and everyone will be given the option to bet against him. He’s made it difficult do that so far.
Do you think Curry’s injury has potential to shake up the playoff picture in the West? Did we rank Golden State too high? Are we severely underestimating the Denver Nuggets? (I genuinely hope so). Let us know in the comments!