If you’ve been keeping track of the “M-V-P” chants erupting from the patrons of Oracle Arena this season, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the majority of them are directed at Warriors’ forward David Lee. Lee is scoring 19.7 points per game (five above his career average), tallying 10.9 rebounds (a full board better than his career mark) and doing his best Andrew Bogut impression against teams with dominant presences down low. In other words, he deserves to have his ego bumped a bit by the adoring masses.
It wasn’t Lee, however, who watched Wednesday’s 92-75 drubbing at the hands of the defending champion Miami Heat in street clothes. Point guard Stephen Curry, kept out of action by a bothersome ankle, could do nothing but let his eyes drift to and fro as LeBron James and the Bronettes walked all over Golden State, handing the Warriors their worst loss of the season. The blue and gold could do nothing to douse the Heat, a team that wasn’t exactly playing out of its mind entering the game.
I can already hear the keep-calm-and-carry-on crowd. “It’s only one game,” they’ll say. That may be, but one game is all I needed to deduce that this team is going nowhere without Curry, who has become the heart, soul and spine of the Warriors. Wednesday’s sans-Steph trial run is a fairly good indicator of what life will hold for Golden State without their star point guard in the fold, and it became apparent very early on that it doesn’t hold much. The Warriors’ 75-point output was their lowest of the year.
The stats support the “Curry over Lee” argument, as well. The Warriors win when Curry plays more minutes, scores more, grabs an extra rebound or two and dishes out more assists. They win when he shows up, period. Last year’s putrid squad earned 13 of its 23 victories with Curry in the lineup, in a season that saw the Davidson product suit up for only 26 contests. Curry completes the team, and it’s likely that a complete 2011-12 Golden State roster would have come much closer to its winning percentage with Curry (.500, 13-13) than its mark without him (.250, 10-30).
The Warriors’ reliance on Curry has carried over to the current season, although Wednesday night was the first time it became apparent. David Lee, for all his superb play and “M-V-P” choruses, finished with just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. The Heat are a strong defensive team, to be sure, but having Lee without Curry there to put the offense’s wheels in motion is akin to losing the key to the Porsche sitting in the garage. It’s pretty to look at, and you know what it can do, but it needs something (or someone) to start it up.
Mark Jackson hopes that he can re-start Curry in time for Friday’s barnburner at the Alamo. The San Antonio Spurs are, for the 113th straight season, a very good team with a very good coach who will exploit a Curry-less Warriors lineup mercilessly. Gregg Popovich’s group is balanced and relentless even without defensive whiz Manu Ginobili, who will miss the next ten to 14 days with a hamstring injury. In short, their success is not predicated on one player making a difference. Golden State simply isn’t at that level of depth yet. They need Curry.
The good news is that the guard’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious, but if another Warriors fan tells you they’re not the slightest bit worried about No. 30, they’re lying. You can bet Mark Jackson hasn’t slept as soundly the past several nights. It might be a tad unrealistic to expect Curry back by Friday’s tilt against the Spurs, but any missed action after that and it’s officially wipe-the-brow time in the Bay Area. And any further “M-V-P” chants will be directed at the suited figure at the end of the bench.