For a moment, the pessimists’ worst nightmare appeared to be coming to life.
Stephen Curry slapped the court at Oracle Arena on Saturday after rolling his twice-surgically-repaired right ankle, and the gesture seemed like a perfect illustration of the frustration Warriors fans were experiencing across the Bay Area.
But Curry says he’s healthy enough to suit up for tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Warriors will need him if they want a realistic shot of making a splash in the playoffs this year.
Believe it or not, the Warriors appear to be headed for their second postseason appearance in 19 years. With 11 games to play, the Warriors are 5½ games up on the ninth-place Utah Jazz and they have six bouts left against sub-.500 teams.
But losing Curry would be particularly deflating right now in the wake of the team’s resurgence over its past seven games.
The Warriors’ turnaround season looked too good to be true earlier this month when they lost for the 12th time in 17 games, falling to Monta Ellis and Milwaukee Bucks at home. During that stretch, Mark Jackson’s club truly looked like the Warriors of the past two decades, surrendering 106.8 points per game on 39.4 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc. But the story took another hairpin turn when the Warriors jolted back to life with a 92-63 blowout of the New York Knicks on March 11. With Saturday’s win, the Warriors have now won five of seven, holding opponents to an average of 88.4 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting from the field — 30.8 percent from downtown.
But to realistically have any chance of advancing in the playoffs, the Warriors will need Curry in the backcourt to maintain their hold on the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference.
If the Warriors fall to No. 7 or No. 8, they’ll face either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, in which case, they might as well just stay home.
The Warriors haven’t won a game in San Antonio since Bill Clinton and Pete Wilson were in office, and it took five minutes of overtime to win their first game against the Spurs in 17 tries back in February.
The chances of beating the Thunder are even more minuscule, but the Warriors do stand a chance against the soon-to-be-Pacific Division-champion Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise whose name is even more synonymous with disappointment. The Warriors took three of four games against Clip Show this year, racking up an average of 106 points per game, so the defense — the team’s Achilles’ heel — is less of a concern in this matchup.
But even if the worst happens — Curry gets hurt and the Warriors get bounced in four games — the culture at Oracle Arena is changing. The Warriors are buying into their coach and, who knows, they might even be able to attract a marquee free agent at some point.
It might seem like every setback — a loss here, an ankle injury there — is a return to the old days, but you can put the pessimism to bed: the nightmare is over.
Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.