The expectation is that Saturday will bring one giant lineup change for the Warriors, one massive boost for the NBA.
Stephen Curry's anticipated return after an 11-game absence with a groin injury immediately lifts the mood of the Warriors, who are coming off that rarest of nights inasmuch as they could walk out of Scotiabank Arena encouraged by their showing in a 131-128 loss at Toronto.
After an unsightly first quarter, the Warriors spent the next 41 minutes outplaying the deeper, healthier Raptors. They did so without Curry or, for that matter, Draymond Green.
So there will be a bit more air under their sneakers when Curry steps onto the court in Detroit. The Warriors without Curry are incomplete, not just because of his skills but mostly because they are built to accentuate them. He’s the hub around which they thrive.
Kevin Durant can be marvelous with or without Curry, but Klay Thompson and the rest of the Warriors rarely unveil the best of themselves unless Curry is on the court. The Warriors are 10-1 this season when Curry is available from start to finish, 5-7 when he is not.
Moreover, the joy factor exponentially increases when Curry is out there shooting and swishing and shimmying. The sight of this relatively ordinary specimen sending much bigger players into silent surrender is an intoxicant for the Warriors and their fans. Curry in many ways is their magic pill.
“Everything gets better,” coach Steve Kerr says. “Food tastes better, (reporters’) questions get better. We’ve been looking forward to getting him back.”
But Curry’s return is bigger than that. He’s also a tonic for the league.
In these three weeks without the two-time MVP, three players posted games of more than 50 points. Durant hung 51 on Toronto two days ago, and LeBron James scored 51 in a Lakers win at Miami 10 days before that, which was one day before Charlotte’s Kemba Walker poured in 60 in a loss to Philadelphia.
Each did his work with the cool, composed proficiency of a surgeon. Which is fine. That’s what most stars do.
Curry is different. Each time he goes off, his response is an animated glee that’s almost childlike. He is that most human of superstars, which is why the vast majority of fans ages 6 to 96, casual or committed, can find themselves charmed to full grin by his performances.
No NBA athlete has a larger contingent of fans at every arena, lining up 20- and 30-deep hoping for a glimpse, if not an autograph. This crazy popularity is why his jersey sales consistently rank No. 1, why he was voted to be the captain of the Western Conference All-Star team and why 9-year-old girls feel comfortable enough to write letters asking for his help -- and actually get it.
Many great athletes are respected and admired, their performances savored, but who besides Curry is so irresistibly enjoyed?
Sports history is rich with stories of athletes who pass our way, dynamic performers wrapped in magnetism unique to them. Some 21st-century standouts, like golf’s Tiger Woods, endure. Others, like MLB’s Dontrelle Willis and Tim Lincecum, do not. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s man of the moment, is bringing a lot of this energy in his first season as a starter.
Curry, though, is that time-tested comet that keeps coming back, game after game, year after year, providing more “wow” moments, each time as thrilling if not more than the time before.
Sure, the Warriors want him back because he greatly increases their chances of winning basketball games. Curry puts a smile on the faces of Kerr and general manager Bob Myers, as well as their assistants, and teammates from Durant to rookie Jacob Evans III.
But Curry makes them dance in the NBA’s New York offices. He’ll be on the court Saturday, so commissioner Adam Silver should sleep well. The league is going back to its happy place.