And so ends the Golden State Warriors’ secret plan to win the top seed in the Western Conference, if not a lot more and a lot worse.
There. Panicked enough now?
Tuesday, the rapidly aging Stephen Curry was declared out for at least the next four games because of his reoffending ankle, and Wednesday the team doubled down on the joy by icing Klay Thompson for an equivalent stretch for what the team is calling a fractured thumb.
This means that for the 15th time since Kevin Durant turned the Warriors into the Gang Of Four, the team will have to function without at least two of that group for the sixth time, and for the first time as something other than the prohibitive favorite to re-inherit the basketball version of earth.
Now here’s the kicker – the next four games in question are against the revivified Los Angeles Lakers, the moribund Sacramento Kings, the utterly room temperature Phoenix Suns and the plummeting San Antonio Spurs. But if as we suspect the Warriors will be careful with both injuries, that list will likely include the dreadful Atlanta Hawks and then perhaps even the ever-difficult Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks.
More to the point, they have lost their last two games without Curry and are seeing the Houston Rockets establish control of the Western Conference seeding race. At this point, they should probably be content with being the liveliest two-seed in years, and they can worry about the stat that shows that the team with home-court advantage is 90-30 in series wins this decade when the time comes.
Mostly, though, they are now in a serious fight for their place, which they haven’t had since they were beaten by the Los Angeles Clippers in the Don Sterling Farewell Series in 2014. Those people who have declared their championship as a fait accompli have been silenced both by evidence and health reports, and even though they are the most logical choice as well as the bettors’ favorite, they are no longer a SCL (stone-cold lock). Their depth shortcomings, their injury list, and the number of teams that are unafraid of/awed by them (currently at three, from a previous high of zero).
And no, the notion that this misfortune will help them focus more consistently is more than belied by the fact that they are missing Curry and Thompson, and may not have them at 100 percent for some times beyond the four games currently listed. The 2015 title that seemed so easy, the 2016 non-title that was easy until it became hard about midway through, and the 2017 title that was the easiest in league history – none of that is available to prep them for their new incarnation.
Oh, this may still end up being a hand ride for them. The season still has another month before it begins and three before it ends. But for the Warriors, this just became a job, with a lower-case “j” and block letters rather than comic sans. But either way, they will have to entertain more with grit than grandiosity, which will not only be a trip back to their roots but a decidedly different way to either show who they are, or who they were.
Now that’s a narrative that beats the fight for the No. 1 seed all to hell, and whether you like to hear it or not, this will be very much fun for Couch Nation. We like different. We need different. The Warriors’ true weakness – they are not robots – has finally revealed itself, and now we will see the results in real time. Not right away, but at least now you’ll be hooked for the whole movie.