USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt discuss whether the West is in a league of its own in the NBA. USA TODAY Sports
OAKLAND — Priorities have a way of changing quickly when everything’s on the line.
One moment the Golden State Warriors were sharing their grandiose plans for the home stretch of the regular season, floating the idea that they might finish with a 24-game winning streak and thus remind the NBA masses that the Larry O’Brien trophy still resides here. Then three games later, when Steph Curry went down with yet another ankle sprain just two minutes into Thursday night’s 110-107 win against the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena, it was time to reassess.
The No. 1 seed that’s in peril with the streaking Houston Rockets up one in the loss column and, in essence, up two because they hold the tiebreaker? It’s not nearly as important as Curry getting fully healthy again in time for the playoffs.
Box score:Warriors 110, Spurs 107
Especially considering the context.
Just when you thought the flashbacks to Curry’s ankle problems were over, the two-time MVP finds himself facing some of those old nightmares again. This was the fourth right ankle injury for Curry since Dec. 4, when he suffered a sprain against New Orleans and was sidelined for nearly a month.
Then came the Jan. 10 re-sprain, a minor tweak that only cost him two games but raised concerns because, well, it came during a team shoot-around. It happened again on March 2 against Atlanta, although Curry recovered quickly and even helped the Warriors finish off the Hawks that very same night. Lest anyone forgot, this is the same right ankle that required two surgeries to get right back in April of 2011 and May of 2012 en route to his rise.
But the Warriors (51-14) certainly remember, and so now the question of how they handle this from here will be front and center. Curry will skip Friday’s trip to Portland as well as Sunday’s visit to Minnesota.
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The fact that Curry wanted to go back in against the Spurs is as good a sign as any that it’s not serious, but the return of this troubling trend is more than enough to justify the Warriors’ cautious approach.
“He said (this ankle turn) was a little bit like the Atlanta one,” Kerr said. “He wanted to lobby to come back in the game, but we wouldn’t let him … We’ve got to be careful with it.”
Curry has long since learned that he doesn’t have the final say when it comes to these matters of health. Kerr leans on team trainer Chelsea Lane to come to a verdict, with the greater good always mattering most of all.
“It’s not that hard (to tell him he can’t come back), actually,” Kerr said with a smile. “Chelsea and I have a much better view of the big picture than Steph does. Of course he wants to go back in the game, but it’s a pretty simple decision, so we just tell him, ‘Sorry, maybe next game.’”
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Yet when it comes to the Warriors, there’s always a silver lining in times like these. They showed during that 11-game absence that Curry being out is hardly a death knell, as they not only went 9-2 during that span but had the league’s top defensive rating (98.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats, compared to their 103.3 mark for the season that has them ranked sixth). Having multiple MVPs never hurts. On Thursday, Kevin Durant (37 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) played the hero part to perfection.
The Warriors aren’t about to wave the white flag on the prospect of home court advantage throughout the postseason, but their measured approach comes in stark contrast to their infamous past. Case in point: Draymond Green, the three-time All-Star who pushed so hard two years ago when their 73-win record was all for naught.
“I think (the No. 1 seed is) something that’s kind of been on the backburner,” he said. “It’s not really something that we’ve talked about at all.
“We’ve been here for a few years now. We know what it takes to take a championship. I’m not sure that there’s any series we’ve been in where we didn’t win a road game, so if you’re going to win it you’ve got to win on the road anyway, so we’re not worried about that.”
Then again, they just might be good enough to get this job done anyway. Eight of the Warriors’ final 17 games are at home, with 10 of those coming against teams that currently have winning records.
“Who doesn’t want to be the No. 1 seed?” Green continued. “If I sat here and said, ‘Oh, we don’t care. We don’t want to be the No. 1 seed,’ I’d be lying to you. But it’s not something that we’re worried about. And it’s also not something where we’re going to say, ‘Oh Steph’s out, it’s over. We can’t do it.’ Like no, next man up.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.