Throw David Lee into the mix for the Warriors’ game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, and Stephen Curry probably wouldn’t be the talk of the NBA after dropping 54 in Madison Square Garden.
Of course, Golden State might also be coming off a victory instead of their eight loss in the last 11 games.
Lee returns from a one-game suspension to help the Dubs in Boston against the Celtics, a team that has won seven straight at home. The Warriors’ schedule gets easier starting Monday, when they begin a stretch of 16 of 22 at home to finish the regular season, but Mark Jackson doesn’t want to pass the final quarter pole gasping for air.
Boston won’t make things easy, though. The Celtics aren’t at full strength but, ironically, are playing better basketball without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, who will miss the rest of the year. Gang Green is 9-4 since losing their floor general and have enough veteran leadership to keep the squad afloat no matter what adversity they face. In other words, they’re in a completely different place than the Warriors, who finished the month of February searching for answers despite Curry giving them virtuoso performances on a nightly basis.
But he can’t do it alone, and Wednesday night was a strong indicator that this team needs David Lee in the lineup. You simply don’t replace the league leader in double-doubles (Lee has 37), no matter how many three-pointers another player might hit.
Threes, though, will be hard to come by in Boston on Friday if the Celtics’ current run of strong defensive performances continues. During the seven-game streak at TD Garden, Boston has allowed opponents to shoot a meager 26.7 percent from beyond the arc, a far cry from the mind-numbing 11-of-13 numbers Curry posted in the four-point loss in New York. Teams have also scored just over 90 points per game in Boston over the week’s worth of wins, suggesting that Golden State will have to play solid defense to stay with Kevin Garnett and company on Friday.
That, in itself, will be a challenge. The Warriors have lost seven of eight away from Oracle Arena, and stopping their opponents has proven difficult. The Houston Rockets’ 140-point outburst skewed the statistics marginally, but the Dubs have allowed an average of 113.1 points in those eight contests. The lock-down D, which was a pleasant surprise through the first couple of months, has vanished, forcing the Warriors to revert to the type of run-and-gun style that pleased fans but didn’t win many games over the last three or four seasons. This was suposed to be Mark Jackson’s specialty, but there has been nothing special about how Golden State prevents baskets during the last month of play.
Most importantly, the bench needs to rediscover the swagger that made them the Warriors’ most improved unit from a year ago. Jarrett Jack, averaging 13.7 points per game enetering Friday, is doing his fair share, but the seventh, eighth, and ninth men have faded. It will take more from Carl Landry and Draymond Green for Golden State to not only remain competitive with a surging Celtics team, but also to avoid falling out of playoff contention in the season’s final eight weeks.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (33-25) at Boston Celtics (30-27)
WHERE: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
WHEN: Friday, 4:30 P.M. (PT), CSN Bay Area
AT STAKE: Golden State beginning March by trying to match its February road win total: one.
PLAYER TO WATCH: David Lee. There were rumblings that, had he not been suspended, the double-double machine may have had to miss Wednesday’s game in New York anyway because of a sore shoulder. If he’s healthy and in the lineup, Golden State becomes much less reliant on Curry.
PREDICTION: The Celtics are playing too well at the moment to pick against them. Boston 104, Golden State 97.