Steph Curry is back, so it’s only a matter of time before the Warriors start clicking and come out to play

Forget the score. Forget the win-loss record. Forget Tuesday night’s loss. The best team in the Western Conference took to the floor Wednesday night in San Francisco as Stephen Curry returned to his team after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury.

The Golden State Warriors will, health permitting, be the team to hit the West. Everyone else is still chasing them, claiming a throne the Warriors still firmly call their own.

Yes, sure, it’s true, Curry’s return coincided with a stumble against the depleted Phoenix Suns, a 125-113 loss to a team that had entered the game on a six-game losing streak. The loss dropped Golden State below .500, to 20-21. Curry shot poorly from three. Klay Thompson too. And the team has now lost three in a row. To subordinate teams. At home, no less.

All the sound and fury signals exactly nothing. Not in the long run. Not in the way that matters.

Numerous conversations with rival GMs and others around the NBA over the past week reinforced the sense that Steph Curry & Co. is the team to beat the west, despite the recent games.

Curry is back and that means the Warriors who won the last NBA title are still well positioned to win the next NBA title.

It was the first time since Dec. 2 that the Warriors’ vaunted starting five had played together — Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins. It will take a while for this group to get back into the groove. Same for Curry, coming back one game, and Wiggins, in just his second game since injury, to do the same individually.

But they will.

And when they do, they will boast the most formidable force in the league.

Literal.

Coming into the game, the five Warriors were the best starting five in the league. Beat it. They were the best five men rotation in the game. By a good margin.

In just 278 minutes combined, they were still +132 over this season.

That is noticeably better than the starting lineup of the Denver Nuggets, a team that is apparently the Western Conference’s best since they are tied for first at 27-13. But on Wednesday morning the group was +109 in 301 minutes.

In fact, the Nuggets’ place atop the West standings perfectly illustrates an interesting, crowded, but far from fear-inducing group of teams in the conference. The East has many true, clear contenders. But out west, only the Warriors can say the same, when they were healthy like they were Tuesday, and when they’re clicking together like they soon will be.

Denver’s defense is a major liability in the postseason. The team they’re currently attached to, the Memphis Grizzlies, at least to my eye, might be the non-Warriors team I’d put my money on, but their youth and sometimes reckless enthusiasm make their short-term championship prospects questionable, even for those of us who strongly believe in their long-term upside.

The West, outside of the Warriors, is a running list of good or interesting but ultimately vulnerable teams.

New Orleans Pelicans? … They could be a threat with a healthy Zion Williamson. They are absolutely no contender without him, and his latest injury is yet another reminder that relying on Zion’s availability is a real gamble.

Dallas Mavericks? … Luka Doncic is incredible, but he has too little help, and a poor defense behind him. As one scout told me this week, “The problem with Luka is pretty much that he does so much for his team that he inevitably wears himself down when the playoffs roll around. He needs help just to have the energy to get through a long playoffs. run.”

Sacramento Kings? … Sure, turn on the beam. This squad is fun and explosive offensively. But they are not a threat in a playoff series.

Los Angeles Clippers? … Call back when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George stop being part-timers.

Los Angeles Lakers? … I am joking.

Even the Suns, who beat Golden State in Steph’s return, are a shell of their former selves. As another scout put it, “Chris Paul is washed up.” And if CP3 is washed up — and that seems possible — so are the Suns’ championship hopes.

But the main reason the Warriors are the team to beat is because they are still the Warriors. Curry’s rough start to the game Tuesday, and his poor three-point shooting on the night, is the inevitable rust of a layoff.

But Thompson has largely begun to round into form. The young players on this team, especially Jordan Poole, look to be of great help this half of the season. And the Warriors’ bizzaro 3-16 road record is what it is, but it’s a strange anomaly. Don’t be fooled by that.

Curry is back. Which means the Warriors are also back.

Let’s try not to write them off prematurely again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *