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Depth is Warriors' biggest advantage as NBA battles COVID

NBC Sports
Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Otto Porter Jr.

SAN FRANCISCO – As they were staggering and stumbling and eventually rolling to a victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday, it became apparent that the Warriors are built for these difficult times.

Certainly better built for it than the Kings and, probably, any other NBA team.

We’re all trying to survive a relentless global pandemic. COVID-19 and its angry variants have spent nearly two years taking lives and stealing health and generally kicking the wits out of that quaint old lifestyle referred to as “normalcy.”

So, naturally, the pandemic tearing its way through NBA rosters this month would visit Golden State. When the Warriors tip-off Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzles at Chase Center, no fewer than three players will be in the cautionary purgatory that is the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Starting shooting guard Jordan Poole fell into the pit last Friday, starting small forward Andrew Wiggins was pulled in on Monday and reserve shooting guard Damion Lee, who replaced Poole in the starting lineup against the Kings, fell in on Wednesday.

Yet the Warriors, without their No. 2 scorer (Wiggins) and their No. 3 scorer (Poole) and their No. 5 scorer (Lee), are favored over Memphis, the spunky squad that sent them home last season and dealt them their first loss this season.

The Warriors are favored largely because no roster in the league is better equipped to withstand multiple losses -- as long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green can trot onto the floor.


“The depth of this year’s team,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday, “is definitely a big factor in allowing us to continue to push forward during times of injury or anything else that’s going to keep players out.”

The Warriors are 25-6 and neither Klay Thompson nor James Wiseman has played a minute. They’ve excelled because Wiggins has been very good, Poole has been a revelation, providing enough offense to mitigate much of what’s lost with the absence of Thompson.

But also because the front office has supplied the coaching staff with a bevy of role players to play off Curry and Green.

Put another way, what the Warriors have been getting from their No. 6 scorer (Otto Porter), their No. 7 scorer (Gary Payton II), their No. 8 scorer (Nemanja Bjelica) and beyond has allowed them to stay at or near the top of the Western Conference.

This is not to say the Warriors are insulated from the effects of COVID, but that having 11 players averaging more than 14 minutes per night provides a measure of protection.

Fourteen different Warriors have played meaningful minutes at some point this season. That’s about as luxurious as it gets in the NBA, where rotations generally run about nine deep.

“It’s a big deal,” Kerr said.

“Everybody is going through this stuff at varying degrees,” he added. “Brooklyn hasn’t even been able to field a team. Some teams have been relatively unaffected. And we’re kind of in-between, with some guys out.”

Golden State’s biggest challenge yet comes Thursday. The Grizzlies match up well and exhibit zero fear. They had won 10 of 11 games before suffering back-to-back losses, by a combined eight points, to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers.

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With Thompson, Poole and Lee out, Kerr will have to resort to his fourth-string shooting guard. In an effort to contain Grizzlies star Ja Morant, the most logical response would be to start defensive ace Gary Payton II.

With Wiggins out, Jonathan Kuminga started Monday before leaving early with back discomfort. He practiced on Wednesday and is expected to be available.

Having such solid options is the strength of the Warriors.

There’s always a chance that, despite being based in a region that constantly emphasizes safeguards, they will get clobbered with a rash of positive tests.

But as long as Curry and Green are healthy and have seven or eight others available, Golden State has the goods to compete with the vast majority of teams in the NBA.

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