When Steve Kerr walks into Madison Square Garden on Sunday without Kevin Durant and trying to snap the team’s longest regular season losing streak in two years, the Golden State Warriors head coach knows that things could be worse.
He could be coaching the Knicks.
The turmoil Kerr currently finds himself in with the Warriors is nothing compared to the ongoing three-triangle circus at MSG. But it is a crisis nonetheless. Durant, who suffered a sprained left knee during the first two minutes of Tuesday’s loss to the Wizards, is not expected to return for the remainder of the regular season and possibly not until mid-May.
Meanwhile, the Warriors enter Sunday’s nationally televised game with a two-game losing streak, something they hadn’t done in 146 games, not including the NBA Finals, of course. Think of it this way: The Knicks haven’t won two straight since late December.
“It’s a challenge” said Warriors All-Star guard Klay Thompson. “But we’ll be better for this.”
Thompson and Stephen Curry struggled in Thursday’s loss at Chicago. They shot a combined 15-for-49 including 3-for-22 on 3-pointers. Curry, the two-time reigning MVP and arguably the best shooter in the world, is mired in a dreadful slump. In his last three games, he’s made just 4 of 31 3-pointers.
“Obviously, I didn’t have anything going from the outside,” Curry told reporters afterward. “You need to try to will yourself into making something.”
The Warriors haven’t looked this vulnerable since last June when LeBron James baited Draymond Green into a technical foul at the conclusion of Game 4, resulting in a one-game suspension for Golden State’s volatile leader. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit in the series while the Warriors ended up with the great consolation prize in NBA history; Durant.
You don’t have to approve of Durant leaving a contender in Oklahoma City to join an even better team in Golden State but there is no denying that he has been everything and more. He has quietly posted MVP-type numbers and he’s been a solid defender.
“We’ll adjust without him,” Thompson said. “We won’t make excuses. We’ll be better when he comes back. We’ve just got to push through. We’ve got enough talent, we’ve got enough depth.”
With Durant out, the Warriors started Patrick McCaw, a 6-foot-7 second-round pick who scored 11 points against the Bulls. Last season, they had Harrison Barnes, who left for Dallas to create salary cap space and a roster spot for Durant. The plan last summer wasn’t to have McCaw playing significant minutes in March.
“We’re thrilled with his development,” Kerr said.
The challenge now for Kerr, whose team posted an NBA-record 73 wins last season, is holding off San Antonio and Houston for the best record in the Western Conference and perhaps home court advantage throughout the playoffs. For example, if the Warriors fall to second they could conceivably face Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round followed by a second round meeting with either San Antonio or Houston. Their road to a third straight NBA Finals will not be easy.
Those are problems the Knicks only wish they had. At 25-37 and 4.5 games out of eighth place they are theoretically in a playoff hunt. The odds are not good and what is sure to follow is yet another rebuild and questions over whether Knicks president Phil Jackson made the right choice by hiring Jeff Hornacek as his coach.
Three years ago, Jackson’s intended to make Kerr his first major hire. But there was an issue of money and whispers that Garden Chairman James Dolan wasn’t enamored with hiring Marv Albert’s former broadcast partner. The fact that Jackson’s second choice, Derek Fisher, received a more lucrative offer than Kerr speaks volumes.
Kerr, of course, made the right move. He is closer to his San Diego home and he inherited a terrific roster from Mark Jackson. All these years later there’s no way of knowing if Kerr would have succeeded at the Garden with an inferior roster and a first-year team president.
Would Kerr have adopted the triangle, an offense that would throttle a team like the freewheeling Warriors? Yes, Kerr would have had the support of Jackson but Fisher was supposed to have that same backing and he lasted less than two seasons.
Fisher tried to get away from running the triangle and it cost him his job. Hornacek entered this season trying to incorporate a more player friendly offensive system but once the Knicks returned from the All-Star break they were back to running the triangle. The sudden shift proves that Jackson is still calling the shots.
He built the roster. He hired the coach and he tells them what offense to run. And the losses keep piling up.
Kerr and the Warriors don’t know how good they have it.