Crossing over between his legs, Stephen Curry examined the floor.
The Warriors were trailing the Nuggets by a point, 10 seconds away from the final buzzer. Golden State, which has the leading NBA championship odds at +425, had lost three of its last four games and was looking to go into the All-Star break last week on a positive note.
Curry drove along the right side of the lane and pulled up. His shot was precise as it seemingly always is, despite a foul. His three-point play gave his team a two-point advantage with five seconds remaining.
But on the following possession, Curry double-teamed Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in the lane, which left Monte Morris wide open for a game-winning 3-pointer.
Curry confessed it was a “dumb read.”
That’s the kind of incongruity Golden State has shown throughout the season. Earlier in the year, it bookended a single loss with two seven-game winning streaks. The Warriors began a run of nine consecutive victories in late January, but then dropped four of five going into Thursday’s game at Portland.
At 42-17 and seven games behind the Suns for first place as of Wednesday, the Warriors still have the best NBA betting odds to win the Western Conference at +175. And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this recent stretch will just be a blip in an otherwise stellar season.
“It’s a tough way to go into the break, but I like how we all played,” Curry, who has the fourth-highest NBA odds to win MVP at +1200, said.
Logo heat checks.
Look-away logo heat checks.
— NBA (@NBA) February 22, 2022
Warriors Showing Balance
Through Golden State’s turmoil, Curry has continued to be a stable presence. He’s first in the NBA in net rating.
In that game against the Nuggets, Curry loomed at the top of the key midway through the second quarter. Jonathan Kuminga cut to the hoop, and Curry found an opening. He darted a bounce pass to Kuminga, who finished the play off with a reverse dunk.
This was the kind of ball movement the Warriors showcased on a regular basis. And Curry was often the one instigating it.
“I told the guys if we continue to play with that kind of fight and connection then we’re going to be in good shape after the break,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said.
Stephen Curry plays basketball tonight 🙌 pic.twitter.com/ZuGNH0a6no
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 20, 2022
The Warriors are one of the best teams in the NBA in another critical aspect: defense.
They rank first in the league in defensive rating. Eight Warriors are in the top 50 among players who average at least 15 minutes a game, including Andre Iguodala who is second.
While the Nuggets made plenty of shots to keep pace last week, they were often contested. Kerr called his team’s defense “much, much better” against Denver.
“Overall, it’s a solid place to be. You have to focus on that,” Curry said. “And if we play like we did tonight consistently down the stretch and continue to elevate our performance on the defensive end, we’re going to be just fine going into the stretch run of the season.”
Golden State Remains Optimistic Despite Altered Rotations
Klay Thompson, a two-way star, has been gradually working his way back into the rotation after returning from multiple injuries. But as he’s picked up more minutes and a larger role, the Warriors have dealt with ailments elsewhere.
Golden State has been without former All-Stars Draymond Green and Iguodala, as well as promising young center James Wiseman. The timelines vary for their returns, but it’s forced the Warriors to adjust.
Their rotations have been in flux. And that’s with Thompson still acclimating himself. Though Curry and Thompson are both starters, their minutes have been staggered in order to keep at least one of the superstars on the floor at all times.
However, Thompson has fit in nicely.
Early in the first quarter against the Nuggets, Curry drove on a pick-and-roll with Kevon Looney. Curry passed to him, but with defense then in front of Looney, he kicked out to Thompson in the corner for an open 3-pointer.
Ball movement. Splash 💦. Klay Thompson.
— Golden State Warriors 💛💙 (@WarriorsEspana) February 25, 2022
Thompson is also appearing more like himself athletically on the defensive end.
Late in the third quarter, he poked the ball away from a Nuggets player, grabbed it and bolted down the court. He showed enough speed to get to the rim on the other end in transition.
The Warriors, at any moment, can also rely on others to create shots.
That includes Jordan Poole, who thrived in Thompson’s absence, or Andrew Wiggins, who was an All-Star this season. Wiggins (17.7), Thompson (17.1) and Poole (16.4) all average over 16 points per game.
“You went to Golden State and you turned into a Splash Brother too!” 😂
Joel Embiid to Andrew Wiggins — who is currently shooting 41.4% from 3-PT range this season.
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) February 19, 2022
Nonetheless, Curry noted the Warriors still need those sidelined players in the mix to reach their potential.
“I know the way that we are constructed and the way the pieces fit, we can compete with anybody,” Curry said. “Our ceiling is only predicated on everybody being available.”
If the Warriors can be at full strength for the playoffs, which seems possible, it may only bolster their chances.
“If we come back and play with that kind of fight, start to get healthy, start to get guys back,” Kerr said. “I feel great about this team and where we are.”