Steph Curry’s one-month break could be Warriors’ blessing in disguise

Refreshed Steph is scary sight for Warriors’ opponents originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO – Stephen Curry walked into the interview room Thursday afternoon wearing slides on his feet and a smile on his face. No limping, no wincing. He looked about as fresh as a peach 30 seconds off the tree.

“I’ve never enjoyed practice so much,” he said after his first scrimmage with his Warriors teammates in more than a month.

Coming from Curry, these expressions of joy should radiate warmth that can be felt by every player and coach among the Warriors. His smile, and those six words, speak volumes about his state of mind with his return imminent and the team two days away from tipoff off its first playoff game in 34 months.

This is the Steph that Warriors coach Steve Kerr hoped would appear after a bone bruise and sprain to his left foot sustained on March 16 forced him away from the game for a month. A Steph who is rested, revived and ready to press his own personal reset button when the team needs him at his best.

“He’s going to be rejuvenated, recharged after this time off,” Kerr said after Curry’s injury was diagnosed. “So, the silver lining is that Steph will get a break before the playoffs come. Assuming everything goes well, he’ll be ready to roll.

“As far as the team is concerned, it will give them an opportunity to learn how to execute without him, which will come in handy during those minutes in the playoffs when he is off the floor. If we can learn to execute better now, that will serve us well later.”

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After initially struggling with Curry’s absence, losing six of seven games, the Warriors began showing signs of growth. Jordan Poole advanced from dangerous shooting guard to dangerous scorer/playmaker. Andre Iguodala reentered the rotation. Draymond Green found his stride, as did Klay Thompson. They won their last five games by an average of 13.2 points.

Not once this season have Curry, Green, Iguodala and Thompson – each of whom owns three championship rings – been on the floor together.

“There’s a lot of excitement about that,” Curry said. “There’s also some uncertainty about rotations. I feel like we have enough in the bank in terms of experience, the know-how of what a playoff atmosphere is like, to be able to make those adjustments on the fly.”

The Warriors are positioned to be a better-equipped team on Saturday, when they face the Nuggets in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series, than they were when Curry left the lineup.

And Curry appears better equipped, mentally and possibly physically, to summon the best of himself. He typically returns from injury with a vengeance.

“It’s just who he is on a human level,” Kerr said. “It’s the wealth of expertise and the confidence that he’s built over time. His willingness to be in the training room doing his work on a daily basis, maintaining his conditioning.”

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“Whatever it takes, he does. With that comes a belief and a confidence in what he’s doing that is almost unrivaled. So that when he goes back out there, he just thinks he’s going to be great. And he is.”

Curry, 34, has had four weeks to clear his mind, to separate himself from the court, to examine turbulences on and off the court and address the causes behind the worst statistical season of a wonderful career destined for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

After almost three weeks in a walking boot and researching the history of such injuries, the pivotal breakthrough came last weekend, when Curry shed the boot and returned to the floor for increasingly longer periods, with increasing levels of intensity.

“It’s weird, where it goes from almost zero to 75 quick,” he said of his progress over the past week. “The healing process was on the front end. Now it’s about trying to catch up to get ready to play – not just play a game but play in a playoff game.”

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Mentally, all signs indicate Curry is ready to rejoin his teammates.

“Everybody is excited,” he said. “Our week of preparation has been … I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been out and, like I said (earlier), I’ve never enjoyed as much as this week. There’s a good energy, there’s a good level of focus. Everybody is understanding how to keep their mind sharp, their body sharp, for a Game 1.

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“Whether you’ve been through it before, or this is your first time, you just want to come with the right attitude. I feel like everybody is in the mind frame right now.”

A break from the grind can be helpful for any human. For someone who grinds as frequently and as broadly – on and off the court – as Curry does, there have to be benefits. It certainly looks and sounds that way.

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