The Golden State Warriors have been the favorites to win the NBA Championship for the entirety of the 2017-‘18 season according to Betway, and still hold that designation. But a major recent injury to their leader and star point guard Stephen Curry has shifted their odds and brought their competition closer to striking distance.
Curry suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday in a 106-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks when Warriors center Javale McGee crashed into his leg after attempting to defend a shot. In a painful twist of fate, the sprain came in Curry’s first game back for the Warriors after missing six contests with an injured ankle.
While Curry will be reevaluated in three weeks, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was not optimistic for a quick return placing a tentative timetable that completely ruled out at least the first round of the NBA Playoffs which begin in a few weeks:
“Oh, there’s no way he’s playing in the first round. There’s no way. So yeah, we have to be ready to play without him and see how he’s coming along. The good thing is, we’ve been through this. We should feel good about our ability to play through this stuff. We also know that Steph has a history of coming back strong from injuries. So there’s a good chance, if all goes well, he comes back during the playoffs at some point, we’re at full steam. So that’s the goal and that’s our plan.”
Sitting firmly in second place in the Western Conference with 54 wins and 9 games left to play, Golden State’s position in the playoffs looks certain, but their opponent in the first round might not be clear until the final day of the season. If the playoffs started today the Warriors would play the upstart Utah Jazz (42-32) and rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell who defeated Curry-less Golden State 110-91 Sunday night.
The race for the spot right behind the Warriors, however, is close and far from over. The currently third-place Portland Trail Blazers (45-28) hold the lead, but five other teams (Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder) all have at least 42 wins putting them just three games back.
Obviously the matchup the Warriors eventually get will end up ultimately dictating the best prediction of whether they'll get through the first round, as they certainly would prefer to play some teams on that list rather than others. But the overall diagnosis remains that without their leader in Curry, an early exit looks more likely now than it has any time in the last two years.
Looking at Betway's online sportsbook, the Warriors still enjoy 21/20 odds of winning a second-straight NBA Championship but their challengers the Houston Rockets (7/4), Cleveland Cavaliers (8/1) and Toronto Raptors (17/2) are inching closer behind. Former NBA small forward/shooting guard and Warrior Stephen Jackson discussed Golden State's chances on a recent episode of Fox Sports’ Undisputed. Jackson admitted that if the Warriors “ever were vulnerable, they’re vulnerable now.”
In other NBA injury news, Boston Celtics star point guard Kyrie Irving suffered a major setback in his recovery from a knee issue that was aggravated on March 11 in a 99-97 loss to the Indiana Pacers. He since has undergone a “minimally invasive procedure” in order to remove a tension wire in his left knee that was inserted during a 2015 surgery that repaired a broken knee cap.
The setback specifically is an updated injury report that means Irving could be absent anywhere from the start of the playoffs through the second round. The news continues to tamper the excitement that started at the beginning of the season for Celtics fans. After putting together a new-look roster by trading for Irving and signing Gordon Hayward, Boston was a favorite to at least contend with Lebron James’ Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown and maybe even the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Hayward broke his leg six minutes into the first game of the season, however, and hasn’t returned. While rookie Jayson Tatum’s emergence in his place has been a huge spark for the Celtics, Kyrie’s injury troubles have put a serious damper on Boston’s hopes at an 18th title. Their official odds are listed on Betway at 9/1 to win the Atlantic Division behind the Raptors, 3/1 to come out of the Eastern Conference playoffs and 16/1 to win the whole thing.
Boston has a six-game cushion on the third-place Cavs and an easier schedule than the Raptors who have one of the hardest remaining slates in the league. With that in mind, they could conceivably still win the top seed in the Eastern Conference and thus improve their odds, but as of right now the main contenders for the NBA crown ahead of the Celtics are the Raptors, Cavaliers, Rockets and Warriors.