Why Warriors' new starting lineup needs boost as playoffs loom

Why Warriors' new starting lineup needs boost as playoffs loom originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Warriors' starting lineup, the one with dazzling analytics that coach Steve Kerr believes can be their salvation, turned six games old Thursday, and it's starting to crack with vulnerability.

The most visible sign of impending peril links to the absence of Andrew Wiggins. One of four Warriors averaging double-figure scoring, he missed the last two games and is on indefinite leave while coping with a personal matter.

Golden State's best hope of surviving the temporary loss of Wiggins' offense is Jonathan Kuminga, who was indispensable Thursday night in a 110-99 victory over the deeply compromised New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Kuminga delivered 25 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks to finish plus-19 during his 30 minutes on the court. He provided abundant and necessary support to Stephen Curry, whose white-hot start and 31 points led the tip-to-buzzer win.

"I love the fact that he's attacking the rim," Kerr told reporters in New York. "What was he, 12-for-19 (from the field), took one three. He should live in the paint. He's so powerful and explosive. He's done a great job this this last six weeks or so. As he's elevated his game and kind of broken through, he's done a great job of attacking the rim and really keeping his focus on scoring in the paint."

It was Kuminga who kept the Warriors afloat until Curry came out of his midgame dry spell to close out the Knicks with a couple of timely 3-pointers inside the final four minutes. Curry and Kuminga accounted for 45 points through three quarters, while Golden State's other starters – Draymond Green, Moses Moody, Brandin Podziemski – had combined for 10 points. That trio finished with 17 points.

There is the crack of vulnerability.

Two nights earlier, when the Warriors rolled the wretched Wizards behind 59 points from the bench, the Green-Moody-Podziemski group had 22 points through three quarters and finished with 25.

Golden State's last two wins came against a team on pace to lose 69 games (Washington) and a roster missing three starters (New York). But this formula will have a difficult time finding enough wins, against stronger competition, to climb above the play-in tournament.

Kerr's decision to install the current lineup was true to the analytics, which verified it as the team's best five-man group. The coach abandoned his once-beloved three-out squad, with three shooters surrounding "non-shooters" Kevon Looney and Green, because he relished the spacing created by four solid scoring threats.

Curry and Kuminga combined for 56 points against the Knicks. Moody, adjusting to regular playing time, totaled seven. Green, not counted on to score, finished with seven. Podziemski, whose shot projects him as a 3-point threat, scored two points.

Podziemski, who replaced longtime starter Klay Thompson, brings a lot of good to the proceedings. He rebounds. He defends. He draws charges. His assists-to-turnover ratio is marvelous for any player, but certainly a rookie.

But he has scored at least 20 points four times this season but only once in the last seven weeks. In the six games since moving into the starting lineup, Podziemski has totaled 49 points, an average of 8.1 per game. For the Warriors to get where they want to go, he's going to have to find a few more buckets.

Curry and Kuminga can carry a lot of weight, but this lineup won't work as well as Kerr would like, not for much longer, unless Podziemski turns capability into results.

The Warriors have long received big production from Curry, who is averaging 27.5 points per game. They're going to need all of that and, in many cases, more. They've been getting steady offense from Kuminga, who is averaging 15.4 points per game – but has scored at least 20 points in 11 of his last 20 games.

"It's the confidence coming from my coaches, my teammates," Kuminga said about his play in recent weeks. "Obviously, Draymond is the one that's putting it all out there. But behind the scenes, my coaches have my back. There are times I struggle but they are always just pushing me every day to be great. And I'm a sponge who will listen and go out there and do the little things they want me to do."

It's fair to believe Kuminga can be a solid second scorer in the starting lineup. That was enough in the last two games. It won't be for many of the 24 that remain in the regular season.

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