Steph Curry NBA MVP chase required in Warriors' path to ideal playoff seed

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Monte Poole
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Warriors' path to ideal playoff seed requires MVP Steph originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The optimal playoff slot the Warriors are chasing, so clearly viewable a few weeks ago, is now a speck in the distance with a glow as dim as that of Steph Curry’s chance of winning the NBA MVP award.

Possible, but hardly probable.

In their pursuit of a No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, the Warriors veered so far off course during Curry’s absence that they only can be saved by a resurrection of his once perceptible MVP prospects.

After watching helplessly as the Warriors were losing four of five games, Curry’s bruised tailbone has healed enough that he expects to return Monday night against the Chicago Bulls.

“I’m mentally and physically getting prepared to play for sure,” Curry said after the team’s Monday morning shootaround.

Know this: Curry is anxious to apply observations gleaned from the sideline.

“Defensively, we can’t give up 120, 130 points every night and expect to outscore people,” he said. “We’re not that type of team. Our strength is our athleticism, our length, our quickness around the perimeter. Obviously, Draymond and his legendary defensive presence. There has to be a sense of pride and fight on that end. We’ve shown it. It’s not like it hasn’t been there for the majority of the season.  We just lost it a little bit since the break.”

The Warriors haven’t “lost it a little bit” in the nine games since the All-Star break. They’ve lost nearly all of it, including six of nine games.

Golden State’s defensive rating since the break: 114.8, 26th. In February: 108.0, fifth in the NBA. So, yes, defensive ability has been demonstrated by this team.

“If we get that back, that fuels everything,” Curry said. “That fuels energy. That fuels the transition to the other side of the ball, the offensive end. Everybody feels involved. You start to see other teams feel you and get uncomfortable. That’s what’s going to give us an edge to then control games and put a streak together. It’s just effort, energy and a collective will to get back to that defensive execution that we’re used to.”

The abysmal defense, poor fundamentals and low determination in equal parts sent the offense spiraling from mediocre toward the bottom of the league. The Warriors' 107.1 rating since the break on that side is 23rd.

RELATED: Steph 'trending' toward Warriors return tonight after injury

The most discouraging numbers, however, are their fourth-quarter ratings without Curry. On defense, their 122.5 is 27th. On offense, their 99.2 is dead last. Those numbers are particularly germane inasmuch as most NBA games are decided in the fourth quarter.

“I hope to bring what I bring to the court. That’s how we’re built,” Curry said. “We have an offense that’s predicated on ball movement, on a lot of attention that I get. And blending that, with everybody being aggressive, as they should be, that’s something that will carry us. I’m just excited to get back out there and help out.”

With two MVP awards in his trophy room – a case is too small – Curry is one of a few players in the league capable of single-handedly addressing and improving his team’s offense.

The Warriors take the court Monday night with a 22-24 record, which has them in 10th place, six games behind the sixth-place Trail Blazers (28-18) in the Western Conference.

Both teams have 26 games remaining, but only Portland is projected to easily approach the 40 wins, give or take, needed to finish sixth and avoid the play-in tournament. 

“Coach (Steve Kerr) has been saying that we’re primed to go on a run,” Curry said. “I think we believe it. That’s the first step. The second step is the confidence to walk out on the court and prove it and execute.”

“Our competitiveness and our energy have to get better across the board. At the end of the day, we can say all the right things. You’ve got to go out and show it.”

The surest way to show it is by ratcheting up defensive awareness and intensity, which unleashes the offense, which is Golden State’s only route to a win streak and Curry’s only path to the MVP race. There is plenty of competition and no front-runner.

Anything less, the Warriors can expect no better than an invitation to the play-in tournament.

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