Defying the odds: Warriors' rim protection better after roster overhaul

Defying the odds: Warriors' rim protection better after roster overhaul

OAKLAND – The trick question came directly at Kevin Durant, and the newest Warriors All-Star neither flinched nor blinked.

Do you know who leads the league in blocked shots, as a team?

“We do,” he said.

Well, yes, the Warriors do – despite odds suggesting they should not.

In pursuing and ultimately obtaining Durant, the Warriors immediately relinquished two of the better rim- protecting centers in the NBA. Starting center Andrew Bogut was traded to Dallas, and backup Festus Ezeli left as a free agent.

Yet, five months later, the Warriors are better off, and not just because Bogut is sidelined in Dallas and Ezeli has yet to appear in a game for Portland.

The Warriors have utilized the positioning of new center Zaza Pachulia along with the shot-blocking ability of Draymond Green and Durant to rise to the top of the NBA in blocked shots, averaging 6.4 per game. They ranked second last season, at 6.1 per game.

Durant is averaging 1.59 blocks per game, 13th in the league. Green is 21st, at 1.32 per game. Both rank higher than Spurs big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as Detroit center Andre Drummond and Washington center Marcin Gortat.

For a change of pace, the Warriors also can turn to JaVale McGee. He’s only 62nd in blocks, at 0.64 per game, but he’s sixth in blocks per 48 minutes at 3.62.

Starting center Zaza Pachulia is sixth on the Warriors in blocks (0.48) and 103rd in the league.

“We had dominant shot-blockers at the center position before, with Festus and Bogues,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Now we don’t have that. We have a guy who is capable of it in JaVale, but he plays short minutes. Zaza is more of a position defender.”

Pachulia is a wide body, not built for blocking shots. If there were such a thing as an assist on a teammate’s block, Pachulia would be stacking them up. He excels, however, in clearing space in the paint for his teammates.

“That allows Draymond and KD and other guys to come over and block shots,” Kerr explained. “It’s a little different look defensively. We’re getting better. We’re getting more in tune with one another.”

The Warriors, with Durant and Green at the forefront, rarely go more than a couple games without a spectacular block. There was Durant last week, meeting New Orleans star Anthony Davis at the rim for a clutch block inside the final minute. There was Green last month, denying Hawks guard Dennis Schroeder at the rim.

For a team supposedly without rim protection, there is quite a bit of rim protection – even if, as before, the perception of jump-shooters gone wild obscures everything else about this team.

“The talk doesn’t matter,” Durant said. “The outside doesn’t matter. We know that every single play we’ve got to help each other out. Whether that’s blocking a shot at the rim, or helping on a drive or a pick and roll . . . every possession it may be something different.

“We’re not trying to go out there saying, ‘Let’s block this amount of shots.’ We’re just trying to cover for each other. And I think sometimes, when we’re at the rim, our will and our hearts just take over.”

Because there usually is no conventional shot blocker, teams continue to attack the rim. They generally fail. The Warriors, Green in particular, would be delighted if they ignore the truth in the numbers and just keep coming.

Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain

Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain

Stephen Curry will be reevaluated in three weeks after an MRI on Saturday revealed that the Warriors point guard suffered a Grade 2 sprain of his left MCL, the Warriors announced on Saturday. 

Curry sprained his left MCL with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter of Friday night's win over the Atlanta Hawks. Teammate JaVale McGee landed awkwardly on the two-time MVP's left leg, and Curry limped to the bench. He then headed to the locker room where he received further treatment, and did not return. 

Curry has missed 21 of the team’s 71 games this season. Before Friday, he missed the previous six games after spraining his right ankle against the San Antonio Spurs on March 2. 

Back-to-back ankle and knee injuries previously dogged Curry in the 2016 postseason. In his first game back from a right ankle sprain in the first round against the Houston Rockets, Curry suffered a Grade 1 right MCL sprain, and missed the next four games. 

This story is being updated. 

Hopeful night at Oracle turns solemn after Curry sprains left MCL

Hopeful night at Oracle turns solemn after Curry sprains left MCL

OAKLAND -- The words came dribbling out slowly, ruefully and with more than a trace of despair.

JaVale McGee, the 7-foot accidental villain, could barely speak about his role Friday night in the moment that left the Warriors pleading for mercy while their fans were screaming at the sky.

Stephen Curry, returning to the lineup after a six-game absence due to a right ankle sprain, lasted 25 minutes before sustaining another injury, this one a sprain to his left MCL. The two-time MVP will undergo an MRI test Saturday.

“I pray to God,” McGee said, “that nothing’s wrong with him.”

The injury occurred with 3:09 left in the third quarter. After biting on a pump fake by Atlanta forward Mike Muscala, McGee wound up tumbling backward, with his 270 pounds landing directly at the front Curry legs. Curry immediately started limping away, with the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena gasping in horror.

“I was trying to block a shot,” McGee said beneath a vacant stare, “and I ran into him.”

That’s the kind of month it has been for the Warriors. All four of their All-Stars have been knocked out of action by an array of injuries.

Curry went down March 8 after tweaking his surgically repaired right ankle. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were injured March 11 at Minnesota, Durant sustaining a rib cartilage injury after taking a elbow from 7-foot Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and Thompson spraining his right thumb after making contact with Minnesota point guard Jeff Teague.

Draymond Green began the next week as the team’s only healthy All-Star, a distinction that lasted eight days before he was struck down with a pelvic contusion Monday night in San Antonio.

“It’s like a juju or something on us,” McGee said. “I’ve never been part of a team where everybody just got injured, especially the starters. It’s kind of scary to tell the truth.”

Durant, Thompson and Green were unavailable Friday night, which is why Curry’s return was so encouraging. After a 2-point first quarter during which he went 1-of-6 from the floor, Curry found his stroke and over his next 16 minutes scored 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Then came the most frightening moment of the night, throwing a massive damper on a 106-94 victory.

“I assumed it was his ankle when he came out hobbling and I found it was his knee,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We will see what the MRI says tomorrow.

“There is not a whole lot we can do or predict. It’s kind of a strange, cruel twist of fate. He rehabs his ankle for the last couple of weeks and gets that strong and the knee goes. We’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed.”

The Warriors came out of the All-Star break fairly healthy and ready to make a run at the No. 1 overall seed. They’ve achieved it in each of the last three seasons, coming away with two championships.

Hopes of getting there this season have disappeared under a pile of injuries, all of them coming over the last 16 days. As of late Friday night, there was no knowing how serious Curry’s injury is, or how long he might be out.

What’s known is that it was another in a succession of frightful moments.

“It’s a little somber in there,” Kerr said of the locker room. “Everybody feels for Steph. But it’s more a case of just keep going and keep pushing forward. We’ll come into tomorrow, short practice and get ready for Utah.”

That’s at the request of the schedule. That’s a dose of NBA reality on a grim night.

McGee didn’t seem ready for that. He was feeling awful about the entire episode.

“I can’t describe it,” he said of the play that followed everyone into the night. “Everybody has a TV. I fell into him and . . . I know y’all (reporters) don’t think I’m standing here like, ‘Yes, I fell into him.’

“That’s a star player. Of course, we don’t want him to be injured, especially after he came back. So I feel very bad for the fact that I was a part of that.”

McGee said he hopes Curry is out no more than a couple games.

The Warriors would be ever so pleased if it’s a couple weeks. They want to be whole for the postseason,, the only season by which they will be measured and a season that, on this night, nobody was of a mood to visualize.