LOS ANGELES — In the first three minutes of Wednesday’s preseason game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, the point guard called for a screen at the top of the key. The forward trotted over and set a pick and then rolled hard to the basket as he received a nice bounce pass.
Two defenders quickly sprinted toward the forward, and he lobbed a soft pass to the center in the back of the defense for an uncontested, two-handed alley-oop slam. Within a three-second span, three players had touched the ball, resulting in a quick score.
This was an offensive play the Warriors have unleashed on the opposition throughout their reign of dominance. But on this evening, with Stephen Curry taking the night off for rest, that well-executed offensive possession featured LeBron James, Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee.
Curry could only watch from the visiting locker room at Staples Center as his team was obliterated all evening and fell 126-93. With Klay Thompson not expected to return from an ACL injury until after the All-Star break, this game punctuated how desperately the Warriors need a healthy Curry on the court as much as possible to remain a playoff hopeful.
Curry will be forced to shoulder a load that is void of the offensive talent the organization featured over five consecutive years of advancing to the NBA Finals and winning three championships.
After the game, Curry said he’s up for the task and noted how the Warriors are no longer equipped to be in cruise control to start the season.
“We’ve always talked about focusing on the first 20 games, but this season, it doesn’t mean as we’ve said before. In the past, it was focusing on the first 20 games just to break up the 82-game monotony of the season. Now, it’s like the first 20 games [are] in a sense of urgency,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “We’ve got to start off on the right foot and create a new identity and basically have fun playing basketball no matter what happens, while working through some of the unknowns. Even me trying to explain it to you, I just don’t even know what it’s going to look like for us on the court. And every day it's going to be fresh and new considering all the success we’ve had in the past. Every day is extremely important if we’re going to be a playoff team. And when we get Klay back and get to the playoffs and understand who we are, nobody is going to want to see us in the playoffs. I think that’s pretty well-known.”
The balancing act for Golden State this season will be managing Curry’s workload to avoid overworking him, which could lead to injuries.
“We’ll see. I’ll have to listen to my body,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “I know how the playoffs felt last year when KD was out and having to get your rest and your recovery and being able to play at that level. But I’m pretty smart around understanding exactly how I can be at my best and sustaining that over the course of the year. I’m obviously not going to play 82 games, but whatever the intensity is out on the court, I’ll be ready for it.”
The Lakers used a starting lineup of James, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Davis and McGee. Because of their rash of injuries, the defending Western Conference champs started D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans, Alfonzo McKinnie, Draymond Green and Marquese Chriss.
The results were a given.
James dissected the defense with 18 points and 11 assists. Anthony Davis flirted with a triple-double, posting eight points, 10 rebounds and eight assists with two blocks. And ex-Warrior Quinn Cook led all bench scorers with 16 points.
Russell had a team-high 23 points, but was minus-32.
Green was visibly frustrated numerous times about defensive breakdowns and stalling offensive sets. The Warriors now have a collection of players who have never won anything of significance and who are fighting to stay in the league, which is a major departure from years past.
But these are still the Warriors, a proud franchise that made reaching the Finals the norm. The pressure to perform at a high level is still very much present, especially while breaking in the new Chase Center in San Francisco.
And much of that pressure will be placed upon Curry.
“If I wasn’t confident in myself, that would really bother me,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not worried about it. And pressure isn’t the right word. I feel there’s an awareness of what our situation is and there’s a freedom in that, too, because I can just go out there and hoop. I’ve never lacked confidence. That’s the thing that’s hard to really put into words with the teams we’ve had the last couple of years from 2015 to now. I’ve approached the game the exact same way, but it just looks different based on who I have out there playing with me like [Kevin Durant] and playing with Klay [Thompson]. It looks different, but my mindset is exactly the same. So, I’m approaching the season the same way, which is to give my all until proven otherwise.”
Those within the Warriors’ organization realize Golden State is no longer the league’s top team. Expectations have been amended in hopes that later in the season the team might find some good footing should health work in its favor.
Good health or not, Curry said his aspirations haven’t changed.
“A championship is still the goal,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “It’s always been. We’ve experienced it all and we’re going to keep pushing to get back there. That’s the goal. It’s the North Star. The narrative might have changed internally, but we’re still chasing the same goal.”
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