The Warriors aren't better without Kevin Durant, but Stephen Curry's become magic again

He’s not going to win a third straight NBA Most Valuable Player award this year — even if, quiet as it’s kept, there’s a not-laughable argument for it — but Stephen Curry has been something close to MVP-level brutalizing on the competition recently. His latest victims: the Washington Wizards and, most notably, center Marcin Gortat.

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Catch, pump fake, pass fake, and see you later, Marcin. Three points for the guys in blue. (Eric Apricot of Golden State of Mind has a lovely breakdown of how the action that precedes Gortat’s bamboozling showcases the Warriors’ development of new offensive wrinkles to combat opponents who try to stall their motion by switching all screens. Highlights and higher learning!)

Making matters worse the Wizards — who entered the unforgiving atmosphere of Oracle to wrap up a five-game, nine-day road trip that included matchups with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz before concluding with the best team in the NBA — Curry wasn’t just on fire from beyond the arc. He was also feeling it as a facilitator …

… and as a finisher on the interior:

This was the magic Steph Curry: the breaker of defenses and destroyer of worlds, the creator of new possibilities who rips off the one-man 10-0 runs that turn tight games into blowouts and that elevate Oracle to ecstatic explosion.

It’s the one we didn’t see much earlier in the 2016-17 season, as the two-time reigning NBA MVP stepped aside to make room for the addition of fellow MVP Kevin Durant. But after a brief shooting slump following Durant suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament and bone bruise in his left knee on Feb. 28, it’s one that’s been making more frequent appearances at Warriors’ games, much to the chagrin of opposing defenses:


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Curry finished with 42 points on sparkling 15-for-22 shooting in the Warriors’ 139-115 blowout of the Wizards. He drilled nine of his 14 shots from long distance on Sunday, giving him 302 for the season; he’s the only player ever to hit 300 3s in a season, and now he’s done it twice, in back-to-back years. (He’s got five games left, but he’s probably not going to match last year’s total of 402, which still feels like a typo.)

Despite losing Durant, who had grown into a fearsome rim protector and was arguably Golden State’s second-best defender behind only Draymond Green prior to his injury, the Warriors have boasted the NBA’s No. 1 defense since KD went down, allowing only 99.7 points per 100 possessions while limiting opponents to just 43 percent shooting. And during this 11-game winning streak, the Warriors have also fielded the NBA’s most explosive offense, averaging a scorching 115.2 points-per-100 despite facing seven top-15 defenses (Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Memphis, Houston and San Antonio).

As ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss notes, it does not feel like a coincidence that the Warriors have turned in arguably their best stretch of the season with Curry freed up to more frequently assume Unanimous Alien Form:

Before the game, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a quip in response to conjecture burbling on the media fringe. When asked about reincorporating the still rehabilitating Kevin Durant, Kerr joked, “I may not play him. We are so much better without him.”

The line was received with the laugh it intended to seek. It is, after all, way too early to assume the Warriors are better without Durant’s superstar services. […] At the same time, it’s hard to deny that Curry looks revived in Durant’s extended absence. It’s also arguable that this 11-game win streak qualifies as Golden State’s best stretch of play this season. For all the quality Durant provided, there was a difficulty in adjusting roles and finding shots for everybody. With Durant out and restrained offensive participants such as Matt Barnes and Patrick McCaw added to the mix, the pecking order is clearer.

With the roles around him defined, Curry is trending more toward the kind of play that had him ranked as arguably the league’s top player over a two-season span.

Due, in part, to the kind of self-assurance that never left him even during his brief slump. From Janie McCauley of The Associated Press:

“[Sunday’s performance is] what I expect to do every night, even if it doesn’t happen. It’s the same confidence I have going into every game,” Curry said. […]

“He’s an arrogant basketball player, which is what you need to be a superstar,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He goes out there and he’s looking to light it up every night.”

With Durant ramping up his rehab work and reportedly on track to return to the Dubs before the end of the regular season, the challenge for the Warriors will be figuring out how to keep Steph on this hellacious roll while reintegrating KD into the rotation. That, um, sounds like one of those good problems.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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