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Three Things to Know: Just how vulnerable are Warriors without Stephen Curry?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Just how vulnerable are the Warriors without Stephen Curry? We know how this may well play out because we saw this movie last year. Kevin Durant got injured in Game 60 last season and was not 100 percent going into the playoffs, yet the Warriors went 16-1 through the postseason on their way to the title. This season it’s easy to envision all the Warriors All-Stars getting healthy — Durant and Draymond Green should return this week, Klay Thompson before the playoffs, and Stephen Curry somewhere late in the first round or early in the second — and they all will be rested and healthy. The Warriors will flip the switch and blow everyone out of the water. They have the talent, this could be their reality.

However, this year feels different.

This year the Warriors look vulnerable. We came into this season and went through much of it thinking they would run away with another title, but as the playoffs near it doesn’t look that way at all.

In part because Curry will not be back for the first round of the postseason, according to Steve Kerr. Also, even when he does return he will not be 100 percent — and we saw in the 2016 Finals what it looks like when Curry’s knee is not 100 percent. He was not the same when he doesn’t move as well laterally and can’t lose guys — with a ring on the line he could not shake Kevin Love on the perimeter — and the Warriors fell. Curry has already missed more games this season (22) than he had the past five seasons combined (16).

The Warriors offense is built around Curry and his style — it’s not just his points, it’s his ball movement and movement off the ball. Other teams can’t ignore him, even if he’s 28 feet from the rim on the weak side, and that off-ball gravity pulling defenders toward him opens up everything in the Warriors offense. Golden State’s offense is 14.4 points per 100 possessions better when Curry is on the court this season.

Remove Curry and the Warriors are still dangerous because they have elite scorers in Durant and Thompson, but the style changes some. Durant uses a lot more isolations and post ups, the ball doesn’t move as well. The Warriors are still good, because Durant is an isolation beast and can post up a lot of defenders, but without the ball movement they are a little more predictable, they take more midrange jumpers (29 percent of their shot attempts are midrangers when Curry is on the court, that jumps to 43 percent when he’s is out, stat via Cleaning The Glass).

Put simply, the Warriors without Curry have a point differential in the Portland/Utah/Minnesota range, not NBA champion level.

The questions are, who will the Warriors face in the first round and can that team pull off the upset? Golden State is all but officially locked in as the two seed. The West is still a jumbled mess, but most likely the Warriors will face one of the Pelicans, Spurs, Timberwolves or Jazz, in a 2-7 matchup. There are teams in there that will be tough outs and have, at least, a puncher’s chance at the upset. Utah is a team other West teams talk about wanting to avoid — they are physical, defensive, and with the emergence of Donovan Mitchell have enough offense to win. The Spurs may have Kawhi Leonard back and that would change everything for them. The Timberwolves expect to have Jimmy Butler back, and that makes them much better defensively and far more dangerous.

There are no pushovers in the West (and we’re not even getting into Houston in the potential conference finals matchup, they could beat a healthy Warriors team). Still, the Durant-led Warriors very likely win a tough first-round matchup. Then they will almost certainly face Portland in the second round — and if Curry is not back that would be a tough ask. Portland is a top-10 defensive team in the league this season who can get buckets with that backcourt. Damian Lillard we know is clutch and is having an All-NBA level season. And that brings us to their other guard…

2) C.J. McCollum drops 34 and drains game-winner as Trail Blazers beat Thunder. We are not going to focus on Carmelo Anthony‘s rough night (but when you think about OKC in the playoffs you have to factor that in), but rather on what the Trail Blazers did right to put a lock on the three seed in the West.

One thing they almost always get right — feed the hot hand. Often in recent weeks that has been Lillard, but on Sunday it was McCollum’s turn to put up the numbers, then hit the game-winner against the Thunder.

Portland is legit. There are no easy first-round matchups in the West, nothing is a given. However, with this team’s defense and scoring they should be able to get to that second-round matchup in the playoffs with the Warriors — and if Curry is not right they have a shot. It would take an almost perfect series, with Lillard making big plays late and Jusuf Nurkic being a force in the paint and being able to stay on the floor, not to mention role players like Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, and Ed Davis having to step up, but it could happen. There is a confidence and optimism around this Portland team that it has earned.

They are going to get their shot in the playoffs. We’ll see if that’s enough.

3) Jazz beat Warriors, Clippers win and Spurs lose, so where does the West playoff chase stand? As noted above, the West is a jumbled mess, so let’s break it down quickly with just more than a couple weeks left in the season.

Houston is going to be the top seed, and Golden State second. Lock that in.

Portland is currently the three seed with a two-game lead over the Thunder — and now three games in the loss column over the four seed Oklahoma City. Don’t use ink yet, but you can pencil in the Trail Blazers as the three seed.

Then anything can happen. Just 1.5 games separate fourth-seeded Oklahoma City and eighth-seeded Utah — and all five of those teams are within one game of each other in the loss column (Minnesota, San Antonio, and New Orleans are the other three). Things will change. Minnesota is currently the seven seed but they have the easiest schedule the rest of the way — a game against Utah is the only one they have against a playoff-bound team, but they play the Grizzlies twice, and the Hawks and Mavericks once. On the other hand, Oklahoma City and San Antonio still have relatively tough schedules the rest of the way and could pick up a few more losses, sliding them down the standings.

Denver is currently the nine seed, and even with an upset win over Toronto the L.A. Clippers are the 10 seed.  Those teams will need help — and a lot of wins. The Nuggets are 1.5 games back of the Jazz (just one game back in the loss column) and the Clippers two games. The Nuggets have one of the toughest schedules in the league the rest of the way and will need wins against Portland, Oklahoma City and Minnesota to climb back in. For the Nuggets and Clippers, the playoffs have started and they can’t afford many more losses.

Knicks reportedly had players-only meeting before David Fizdale was fired

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New York had lost eight in a row, blowing big leads in a couple of those games. The last two games the Knicks were listless — a 44-point crushing by the Sixers, then a 37-point thrashing by the Nuggets — and looked like a team that had given up.

Friday morning, team veterans — led by Marcus Morris — called a players-only meeting before practice to talk about the need for the players to not roll over and play harder. Particularly with coach David Fizdale’s job on the line. That meeting was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Fizdale then ran the team practice.

One meeting and one practice was not going to stop the inevitable, Fizdale was fired later on Friday. The Knicks have made that official and assistant coach Mike Miller will take over as the interim head coach.

Sometimes there is a boost of energy teams get from a coaching change, but in the case of the Knicks it may well be a dead cat bounce. That is unless the veterans really do take charge and start pushing this roster.

While Fizdale certainly deserves blame for the lack of identity on offense and defense from the Knicks, I’m not a believer that an NBA coach is fully responsible for his team’s motivation. These are professionals getting paid millions of dollars, it shouldn’t take a rah-rah speech from a guy in a tie to get them focused and ready to do their job. It’s on the players. Motivation is always part of a coach’s job, and with a young team keeping the players on task certainly is part of the coach’s responsibility, but at the NBA level a coach should have to worry less about firing his guys up on a nightly basis.

Knicks make it official: David Fizdale fired, assistant Mike Miller promoted to head coach

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UPDATE: The Knicks have made all the reporting official.

As had been expected, David Fizdale is out as the Knicks head coach after an ugly 4-18 start to the season. This was a case where Fizdale was given an “Island of Misfit Toys” roster to work with that was never going to be good, but he also didn’t do much with it. New York had no identity on either side of the ball. The Knicks have lost eight straight, the last two by at least 37 points, and the team was simply lackadaisical in its effort recently.

Who will coach the Knicks next season depends on the answer to another question: Are team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry safe, or are they on their way out, too?

In the short term, New York promoted Mike Miller into the big chair, and bring up Keith Bogans from the G-League coaching staff to round out the roster, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Miller spent four years as the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, the franchise’s G-League affiliate, and was the G-League Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He was eventually promoted to the Knicks bench.

Don’t expect a major shake-up in the Knicks’ offensive and defensive systems, or with the rotations, at least in the short term. There just are not a lot of practice days built into the NBA schedule to allow a mid-season replacement to overhaul everything. Plus, with this roster, there’s only so much a human being can do.

 

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This has been confirmed by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.