The Golden State Warriors have trampled through the country, going undefeated on their longest road trip of the season. They return back to the Bay Area on Monday to face the Portland Trailblazers. Here are some interesting topics and things to look forward to that arose from the road trip:
One MVP down, another steps up
With Stephen Curry out for at least two weeks with a right ankle injury, Kevin Durant has had more freedom to do what he does best while adding more than most expected. In the two games since Curry sat out, Durant averaged 35.5 points,10 rebounds, and 8.5 assists. His defense was on full display, too; he averaged 3.5 blocks over the two games, further cementing his position as the best two-way player in the NBA. Durant said that with Curry out, “Nothing’s different. Just more opportunity.” More opportunity to do amazing things on the court, such as this clutch block that led to a wide open dunk:
It seems unlikely that we see a player as skilled as Durant take his game to yet another level, but he’s performed in ways we don’t quite get to see with Curry on the court. Durant’s MVP mode can only activate with Curry out, and for good reasons. The Warriors are spoiled with talent, and this is the reason why many are unhappy with their success.
Dominating the stat sheets
Draymond Green has been playing like his usual self: not letting his lack of scoring affect his dominance in other areas of the game. When he plays focused, he is the maestro on defense–he often orchestrates the offense, too, when Curry’s sitting out. Over the six road games, he averaged 1.3 blocks, 2.3 steals, and 6.1 rebounds, and 8 assists. He’s the Swiss Army Knife of the team.
Klay Thompson has been quietly playing the best, most efficient basketball of his career. He’s approaching the magical 50-40-90 shooting mark on the season, and he’s seemed to hit a rhythm on offense. His growth as a playmaker is apparent as well; he’s creating more opportunities for his slashing teammates who are open because he draws so much attention with his deadly pull-up jump shot. Another outrageous stat is that Curry, Durant, and Klay Thompson lead the league in mid-range FG%. Their offense hasn’t been settling for threes like the Warriors of old–they’re taking any inch that opposing defenses give them.
Not the same; can this level of play continue?
The Warriors’ spirits are high after overcoming this arduous road trip, but they won’t be maximally happy until the face of their franchise can enjoy their success with them on the court. As Durant says in his Instagram post’s caption above, “It’s not the same without Steph. Don’t play yourself.”
Before the road trip, it seemed that the Warriors had low interest and low focus going into games; they would get surprised by opponents early in the game and have to play catch up. But at this point in the season, they seemed to have settled into a groove. They’ve overcome injuries that pop up weekly, leading to sporadic changes to the starting lineup over this road trip. Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston have both started in Steph Curry’s absence. Even JaVale McGee, whose minutes have been unofficially claimed by Jordan Bell, received a starting nod from Steve Kerr when Zaza Pachulia‘s injury left him sidelined.
The Warriors return to Oracle Arena on Monday night to face Oakland native Damian Lillard and his Portland Trailblazers, who currently sit at 6th in the Western Conference. Expect Lillard to light up Oracle Arena in front of his home town, especially since he doesn’t have to worry about Curry on defense. It should be an electric, high-scoring affair.