Game Thread: Curry, Warriors primed to send a message to Charlotte and their new point guard, LaMelo Ball

This is still Stephen Curry's league

“We got ready for the Warriors.”

That was Orlando Magic coach, Steve Clifford, talking about his team’s good practice ahead of last night’s battle that saw the Golden State Warriors take a painful loss while Stephen Curry struggled to an inefficient 29 points on 29 shots.

All the great players will be forced to contend with this at some point. From the Jordan rules to hack-a-Shaq, opposing teams will always look to overload their coverage somehow to take advantage of any great player’s perceived weakness. They knocked Jordan down, fouled Shaq… for Curry, it looks like the answer is to just throw a ton of bodies at the guy. Look at the World War Z level of swarm that Curry dealt with on the final possession last night:

That looks like a full-time double team, with another helper ready on either side. If the Warriors hope to find a meaningful winning streak this season, it will start with decoding a solution to the extra attention opponents are throwing at the Warriors quick-shooting All-Star.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (16-14) at Charlotte Hornets (13-15)

WHEN: Saturday, February 20, 2021 // 5:00 pm PST (corrected)

WATCH: NBCSBA; NBA League pass


Struggling to be better than average, Warriors learning lessons, but slowly

Mark Jackson will tell you that this is a make or miss league, no excuses. The Warriors have earned every inch of their marginal playoff fringe position. Currently perched on the 8th seed, the Warriors have been as high as 6th, but consistency has been as elusive as Curry rolling off a staggered screen.

Deprived of his high-powered offensive buddies, Stephen Curry is doing an admirable job carrying the Warriors. His name is (rightly) gaining increasing volume amongst the MVP chatter, but the one knock that keeps hamstringing any legitimate claim to the award this season is the Warriors’ record.

The team’s struggles are explainable - especially in the current version of a team playing without the core of their center rotation. James Wiseman and Kevon Looney won’t play against the Hornets tonight, but all indications point toward an immanent return over the next few days.

Here’s Curry’s father, Dell, describing the aftermath on the day that Curry learned about Klay Thompson’s catastrophic Achilles injury just prior to the opening of this season’s training camp:

“The uncertainty of what the team was going to be like was a big concern,” Dell said. “His role, if it could be any bigger, was going to have to be bigger. You hate it when you lose a player like Klay, but I think that made him aware that he was really going to have to be ready when the season starts. Teams are throwing everything at him. Even last night (at the Heat), he’s seeing all 10 eyes of the opponent every single night.”

Whether you agree entirely with the strategy or not, the Warriors are holding a course as steady as possible. Rather than blowing up the team for a chance at assembling a fresh upper echelon, the Warriors franchise is patiently building for the future, with one eye on the present.

And it’s tough.

Curry is facing some version of the Box-and-1 defense every single game. As we saw in the clip at the top of this article, the attention Curry draws is unprecedented and unrelenting.

As a window into Curry’s reality, just note a couple of stats from last night: Curry had a game high usage of nearly 35% (which ranks him among the top 10% of players at his position), but to truly understand the island that Curry operates on, you should also pay attention to the fact that over 75% of his shot attempts were unassisted, a mark in the bottom 25% of the league.

In other words, not only is Curry carrying more than his share, he’s really doing most of it on his own. This was especially evident last night, when Draymond Green pitched in 6 points, and Andrew Wiggins managed to wring just 16 points off of his 15 shot attempts.

There’s help on this roster though. Oubre was fantastic (again) last night - a new pattern that is extremely welcome. The problem isn’t that the help isn’t there ever, it’s just that the inconsistency is accurately reflected in the Warriors record. Oubre, Wiggins, Green, and even Juan Toscano-Anderson have all had flashes of greatness - but to take the next step forward, those flashes will need to strobe more often.

This is very much a team that can come back from a double-digit deficit, unfortunately, it’s also a team that is just as likely to dig themselves a double-digit hole.

Help is close, and the Warriors are staying within punching distance of the playoffs, so hang tight Dub Nation!

Battle of the 8th seeds

LaMelo Ball is averaging 21 points per game over his last 10 games, and his Charlotte Hornets have managed to go 6-4 over that span. While a lot of discussion swirls around the tie between Ball, who was taken one pick behind Wiseman, this is also the first meeting between Ball and Curry.

There’s a sort of pecking order in the NBA - really in any basketball game you play - where the newcomers measure themselves against the established dominant forces. It could go either way. Like the Tyreke Evans’ of the world though, there’s a lot more to the whole story than can be told in a single season. Curry dethroned Chris Paul as the world’s best point guard pretty early in his career, and so it is now Curry’s turn to be tested by rookies.

The Hornets are hopefully getting Gordon Hayward, who is listed as probable, back tonight, and combined with potent scoring guard “Scary Terry” Rozier, so tonight’s game will be about more than the point guard matchup. But still, it’s going to be fun to watch Ball and Curry go at it in Curry’s homeland.

Because of a couple of Covid-related cancellations, the Hornets haven’t played a game in 6 days. They’ll be well rested, well coached on this Warriors matchup, and ready. Here’s hoping the Warriors are at least two of those three things.

Predictions

After dropping the “easy” game on this road trip with last night’s loss, I think the Warriors will be extra motivated to get a win tonight. Clearly stinging from not being able to string three wins together, I expect Golden State to do what it takes to knock off Charlotte tonight.

Golden State has another tough rebounding opponent - easy to find when your team ranks 28th in the league in rebounding percentage. Charlotte is 16th in rebounding overall, and 10th in offensive rebounding rate, so this will be an area of emphasis for the Warriors.

Warriors win 132 - 120.