No Warriors bigger help to James Harden's title quest than weight loss

No Warriors bigger help to James Harden's title quest than weight loss

James Harden's NBA playoff failures are well-chronicled, with many coming at the hands of Steph Curry and the Warriors.

Like a boyfriend afraid of commitment, the Rockets star has gone missing in a number of key fourth quarters in big playoff games during his career. Harden's 10 missed 3-pointers in the Rockets' Game 7 loss to the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference finals were the final nail in his coffin, and the dud he laid when Curry and the Warriors eliminated the Rockets in Game 6 of last year's West semis got him pushed out to sea with the rest of the stars who slink away from the bright lights.

Only an NBA title can bring Harden's legacy absolution, and 2020, should the season resume -- could be the perfect time. Why, you ask? Well, for starters, after five years at the top of the NBA, Curry and the Warriors will be absent from the playoffs after being ravaged by injuries and a changing roster following Kevin Durant's departure.

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The Warriors' absence is only one part that allows the Rockets' title hopes to improve, though. With the NBA on pause because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Harden has used the time to get into ridiculous physical shape.

After the season went on hiatus, Harden went to Arizona to undergo boot camp workouts, as a recent story in The Athletic detailed. Instagram photos show a trimmed-down Harden, and one talking head who has been saying a lot of late believes this makes the Rockets title favorites.

"James was in the lab," Kendrick Perkins said on ESPN's "The Jump." "It shows dedication. He's going to be dangerous. You're talking about a guy who was one of the most prolific scorers to ever touch the basketball, and he done lost weight and he's dedicated. It's going to be dangerous. It puts the Rockets up there as a heavy favorite to win the title if the season resumes.

"That's the whole problem is that he always got tired and he always got exhausted and he always disappeared in the fourth, and you know what being conditioned and putting yourself in shape, that affects you, so that in the end, when it's crunch time, it's going to take them to newer heights."

Slow your roll there, Perk.

First of all, if the NBA season resumes -- which it is on track to do so at the end of July -- the Rockets must run through a gauntlet of teams -- including LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, and Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers -- to win the title. The Rockets' decision to go all-in on a small-ball lineup in which no player is over 6-foot-6 is not a strategy that can work in a seven-game series against the league's best teams.

Perkins later noted that during his time with Harden as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team had to help the guard control his weight. But Harden's playoff failures don't lie in his weight or "beefy" appearance, as his teammate, Austin Rivers, would say.

[RELATED: Harden better player than Curry, Perkins says]

Harden's playoff duds came time and time again with a better team led by a better superstar standing in the way.

Curry and the Warriors have eliminated Harden and the Rockets in four of the last five seasons. During those series, the Warriors are 16-7 in those contests, with Curry outdueling him in the biggest moments, with Game 6 of the 2019 Western Conference semifinals putting the icing on the cake.

Harden is a tremendous scoring talent, but any apparent weight issues haven't caused him to go missing in the big moments or kept him from winning the title.

Curry and the Warriors did that. They were superior in every way, every year.

Their absence from the 2020 playoffs will be a bigger boon to Harden's title chase than any boot camp. But still don't expect the small-ball Rockets to be playing deep into September after the season resumes.

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Steve Kerr knows Warriors must 'begin to manage' Steph Curry's minutes

Steve Kerr knows Warriors must 'begin to manage' Steph Curry's minutes

Restarting a dynasty never is easy, and the Warriors will face many new challenges next season as they look to return to greatness after a pause year at the bottom of the NBA.

Among the new set of obstacles for coach Steve Kerr is something he hasn't needed to worry about in the past: managing Steph Curry's workload.

As Curry enters his age-32 season, Kerr knows it will be his staff's responsibility to make sure his superstar isn't overworked during the season, suggesting the Warriors will implement a version of the Celtics' "KG Plan," which Boston used toward the end of Kevin Garnett's tenure.

“Now, (Curry’s) at the point where he’s been at the peak of his powers for the last couple of years,” Kerr said on The Athletic's "Hoops, Adjacent" podcast. “If anything, it’s on us to try to begin to manage his minutes. We’ve always been really blessed. We’ve been able to do that because of the talent on our team. We’ve never really run Steph into the ground.

"We don’t have as much depth as we once did. It’s on us as a coaching staff to make sure we get him his rest every night, and we’re not wearing him out.”

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For the Celtics, that plan meant Garnett spending five minutes on the court and then five minutes on the bench. They tried to stick to that plan as diligently as possible during the 2011-12 season, but eventually, they needed Garnett to play more down the stretch and in the playoffs.

The Warriors' plan for Curry unlikely will be as regimented as Garnett's was in 2012. As Kerr noted, the Warriors no longer have the depth they once did, so even more will be placed on Curry and Klay Thompson's shoulders as they try to resurrect a dynasty that was brought down by injuries and exhaustion in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors.

After playing just five games this past season, Curry no doubt is champing at the bit to return and prove that he and the Warriors should not be cast aside yet. Managing Curry's minutes will be important to keep him fresh for what the Warriors hope is an extended playoff run, but it's clear they will have to ask him to shoulder a heavier load in order to accomplish their goals.

[RELATED: How Steph feels about Warriors playing in NBA's second bubble]

A critical offseason now faces the Warriors. After sinking to the bottom of the NBA, the Warriors will have a top-five draft pick and a $17.2 million trade exception to use to bolster the roster around Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green.

Returning to the unprecedented level of greatness they once enjoyed is too much to ask of Curry and the Warriors. You don't simply absorb the massive blow of losing Kevin Durant and return to that level.

But the Warriors will return to the court rested and healthy in December when the next season is expected to begin, and they should automatically return to contender status atop a now-loaded Western Conference.

Curry wants to prove that the Warriors' dynasty isn't done. For the Warriors to succeed in returning to the top of the NBA, though, it's important Kerr makes sure the two-time league MVP isn't worn down by the weight he's asked to carry.

Steph Curry offers thoughts on Warriors playing in second NBA bubble

Steph Curry offers thoughts on Warriors playing in second NBA bubble

As 22 NBA teams get acclimated to the bubble in Orlando, Steph Curry and the Warriors are in offseason mode. For now, at least.

The NBA reportedly is looking into having a second bubble in Chicago, where the eight teams who did not get the Orlando invite would participate in a minicamp and play a few games against each other. For Curry, that's something he doesn't sound interested in, but admits it could be beneficial for the younger Warriors.

"At the end of the day, it would be hard for me to play meaningless games, and that's pretty obvious," Curry said Friday on SportsCenter. "But in terms of young guys trying to get as much basketball to break up, for the bottom eight teams, this potential eight-, nine-month layoff, I think it's a good effort. Obviously safety first, that's what everything is about. So if they can answer those questions, then we'll see what happens."

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Warriors general manager Bob Myers has said the Warriors will be a good league partner and participate in a second bubble if one gets OK'd. But it is unlikely Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green would participate in said second bubble. 

In June, coach Steve Kerr said that a minicamp-style bubble would not be something that appealed to the Warriors.

[RELATED: Curry hopes others follow his lead in social justice push]

After a 15-50 season, the Warriors will finish recharging during the extended offseason before attempting to restart their dynasty in December, when the 2020-21 season is expected to begin.

The Warriors face a crucial offseason as they look to maximize the remaining prime years of Curry, Thompson and Green. They will have a top-five draft pick and have a $17.2 million trade exception to use to add another piece around their championship core.

The second bubble doesn't have much intrigue for a team that spent the last five Junes playing in The Finals. There's little reason for Curry, Thompson or Green to suit up for exhibition games this summer. All that matters is being healthy and rested for when the games count again.