Warriors enter months of survival mode as Steph Curry and Gary Payton II heal

SAN FRANCISCO — A degree of timing clarity was provided Monday regarding the expected absences of Steph Curry and Gary Payton II. Curry spoke to reporters before the game against the Wizards. He grimaced at his injured left leg as he climbed onto the podium. A few days earlier, a crutch was discovered hanging from his locker. He’s not back on the pitch. He doesn’t seem that close to returning.

“That’s unlike the shoulder, where it’s pretty predictable (and I could) get to a point where I could play without injuring it again,” Curry said. “This is different because bands can heal on different timelines. There is a window for each control point. Hopefully after the All-Star break I want to get back on the court. Depending on how it goes I want to put in a specific date.”

The Warriors will play six games in nine days after returning from the break. It seems unlikely that Curry can climb back in this shortened timeframe. So we’re talking about that absence extending into March when there are less than 20 games left in the season.

“I don’t know how you define some of the[missed games]part, but yeah, I’m not going to play the Lakers in the first game after the break,” Curry admitted.

A few hours before Curry spoke, Bob Myers sat on the same podium to address the James Wiseman for Payton trade, which involved several controversial shifts. You can listen to the entire interview here. News of this came early. Myers announced that Payton would be re-evaluated in a month. As Steve Kerr later revealed, Payton is in full rehab mode for the time being and is barred from court activity.

The Warriors traded Payton in part because they believed he would immediately breathe some life into their playoff chase and take a bench role. But the failed exam revealed an ongoing problem in his surgically repaired core – which was causing pain and weakness – and Rick Celebrini, the team’s director of sports medicine and performance, has told the Warriors winders he needs time to get Payton’s body back into shape to bring reasonable form of play.

“It’s our determination that he’s not ready to play right now,” Myers said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back someday. The goal would be pre-playoffs.”

March 13th is Payton’s official rating date. That means Payton has already been left out of the first 14 games he could have played for the Warriors. He’s unlikely to get the green light after just a month. A six-week absence would leave just six games in the regular season. Two months would put him on the brink of the playoffs.

The Warriors have life dreams in April, May and June that feel like they were a year ago. Curry was returning from a foot injury just before the playoffs. Payton was returning from a terrifying elbow injury during the playoffs. They were healthy long enough to cross the finish line and win the title.

But last season was different for several reasons. The 18-2 start gave them a foundation that, despite various odds, kept them in a solid playoff position throughout the regular season. At no point were they prone to falling out of the picture. That is no longer the case.

The Warriors went 28-28 Monday night and sat in ninth place in the West, just a half game ahead of 11th seed Thunder. Curry and Payton should return eventually, but there’s a chance it’s too late depending on how the next month goes.

Monday was almost a disaster. The Warriors gave up 39 points to the Wizards at home in the first quarter. Defensively, they gain no traction. They fell to 13th place. Draymond Green received his 15th technical fault after just 87 seconds of play, which separated him from a one-game suspension.

But in the second quarter, the bank provided an enormous boost. JaMychal Green grabbed his ailing right wrist and continued his flamethrower stretch despite the pain. Green finished 4 of 4 of 3 and is 13 of 24 since returning from his long absence from COVID and staph infections, erasing the memory of a tough opening month. He has turned into a burly eighth man and third major.

Donte DiVincenzo made five 3s. He’s up as much as 41.4 percent from deep this season, a career-high, on sizeable volume. DiVincenzo has made 97 total 3s while serving as one of the team’s most reliable full-backs every night.

Ty Jerome was also a smash off the bench, scoring nine points in 18 minutes. The Warriors outplayed the Wizards by 12 with him on the floor. It was his 35th game, leaving him with just 15 left on his two-way eligibility clock. Kerr mentioned the importance of Jerome without Curry, noting that his seven assists and just one turnover calmed the action.

Andrew Wiggins had his most productive night since returning, scoring 29 points on 12 of 22 shots. Klay Thompson scored 20 points in the first half and dove into traffic around Kristaps Porzingis. Thompson finished at 27 and announced after the game that he is expected to play against the Clippers on Tuesday night, the first time he will be available on either side of a back-to-back since tearing the ACL in 2019 . Thompson called it a milestone.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m so excited.”

Thompson’s availability matters because the game matters. Anyone remaining has extra weight in the cramped leaderboard. The Warriors are 29-28, still ninth after the win but just 1.5 games from fourth. The Clippers are sixth at 31-28. The Warriors face them three times through March 15, twice in Los Angeles and likely without Curry or Payton.

(Photo of Klay Thompson watching his shot against the Wizards: John Hefti/USA Today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *