The Golden State Warriors have experienced a roller coaster 2013-14 season and are still aiming to lock up a playoff berth. When and if they get to the postseason, however, fans may experience a discouraging case of deja vu.
According to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Dubs head coach Mark Jackson said that an MRI on power forward David Lee revealed nerve inflammation in his hamstring. When asked if the injury could keep D-Lee out for an extended period of time, Jackson’s answer was less than promising:
Great question. I don’t have the answer. We certainly miss him, we certainly need him, and he’s a guy that’s doing everything possible to try to get back on the floor. He’s frustrated right now. And rightfully so.
We don’t know how long…
Golden State has been in this position before, as Lee suffered a hip injury in Game 1 of the 2013 playoffs against the Denver Nuggets. Curry and Co. managed to glide past Denver in six games without their big man but fell to the San Antonio Spurs in six during the Western Conference Semifinals. The former Florida Gator played just 35 total minutes in four second-round games.
The Warriors have just five contests remaining in the regular season, but would the interior force get back in time for the playoffs this time around? Jackson said the following of that scenario, per Kawakami:
I don’t know that. I haven’t been part of that dialogue. That hasn’t been something we’ve discussed. He’s doing everything and it seemed like he’d be ready and he’s not.
But we’re a no-excuse team and guys are fulfilling the role and stepping into his place and finding ways to get it done.
Lee has now missed the team’s past six games. The Warriors are 4-2 during that stretch and are indeed getting meaningful contributions in the 30-year-old’s absence.
Draymond Green and Marreese Speights have each taken on bigger responsibilities of late. Both have been featured in the starting lineup, and each guy is producing with more opportunities.
|Lee's Replacements (Past 6 Games)|
The scoring numbers are great, and the Green/Speights tandem has made a huge impact by crashing the glass, but the question now is whether those two could be relied upon in a playoff setting.
On top of the uncertainty surrounding Lee, the Warriors’ coaching staff has been in a state of turmoil. Jackson reassigned Brian Scalabrine in March, while Darren Erman was dismissed from the team outright earlier this month.
Neither move should be blown out of proportion, but this is an inopportune time for a playoff team to be experiencing so many sudden changes. Getting Lee back would be huge in terms of adding stability to the organization, but his recent ailment may keep him out for the foreseeable future.
Dan Feldman of NBC Sports' Pro Basketball Talk wrote the following of Lee’s absence and its influence on the squad:
It’s not as if the Warriors can’t be successful without [the lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Lee and Andrew Bogut]—they’re 4-2 without Lee—but they’re better with their bread and butter. Losing Lee for any portion of the playoffs could prove to be the difference between advancing and not.
The Warriors would play the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1 if playoffs started today. LA is suffering through injuries of its own—Blake Griffin’s back, Jamal Crawford’s calf and Danny Granger’s hamstring—but the Clips will still be a brutal matchup.
Lee’s healthy return is imperative to a successful playoff run for Golden State. It may face a harsh first-round exit if he can't suit up.
It's worth noting that Harrison Barnes came up huge in Lee's postseason absence a year ago. The North Carolina product thrived as a small-ball 4—specifically against the Spurs. He averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game during a breakout 12-game performance.
Barnes has had his struggles this year—shooting just 39.2 percent from the floor—but he'd be a giant X-factor once again if Lee finds himself dressed in street clothes.