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The Hype/Concern Index: Steph Curry Is Hurt Again, and Kawhi Leonard Might Be Healthy

All the good, the bad, and the tanking from around the NBA

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Welcome to the Hype/Concern Index, a semiregular post capturing the NBA news and events to get hyped on or concerned about.

Concern: Kevin Durant Says “It’s Weird” Playing Without Steph

A team made up of injured Warriors sports a lineup that would be able to beat Memphis: Steph Curry, Patrick McCaw, Andre Iguodala, Jordan Bell, and David West—and a sixth man, Nick Young.

Except for McCaw, who will be out until the end of March, the indisposed could all be back on the court later this week. But Golden State might not even need to be at full strength to win its next few games—the Warriors’ next five matchups are against the Lakers, Kings, Suns, Spurs, and Hawks. The two-game losing streak will soon be forgotten, as will Kevin Durant’s words Sunday, after falling to the Wolves.

“It’s weird not having Steph out there.” One baby-faced, mouthpiece-hanging 3-pointer and we’ll forget he ever wasn’t. But if his injury problems are no longer isolated, shouldn’t we be worried about Steph?

This is the fourth stretch since December that Steph’s right ankle has caused him to miss time. During each injury break, the news has unfolded in the same unalarmed way—out, ankle sprain, should be back soon, look at Durant go!!!—as if Curry’s right ankle didn’t almost cost him his career. Steph’s 2011 and 2012 seasons are like an open secret at a family reunion that no one wants to talk about because it will ruin the party the Warriors have had since The Surgery That Shall Not Be Named, but it’s concerning that Steph’s once extremely fucked ankle is becoming an issue again.

Curry has played 344 games since the 2014 season began, with 56 of those coming in the postseason. The two-time MVP has started three straight seasons coming off the shortest possible summer break. This year, Curry won’t be able to relax as the Warriors sweep to the Finals. Golden State will face public enemy number one before the Finals even begin. Beating the Rockets with Steph at 100 percent health will be taxing enough.

“It’s weird not having Steph out there” comes from the same mouth as the one that produced: “I don’t want to have to be the leader.” That’s Durant in 2016, explaining his role with the Warriors. “I’m not a leader. I’m bad at saying, ‘Stand behind me and follow me.’” Steph will return soon, probably Wednesday, probably looking fine. The Warriors trail the Rockets by two games. They could catch up. Maybe they won’t. But that’s not what Golden State should be worried about.

Concern Meter: 7/10

Hype: Grizzlies Lose Again (x17)

Four days ago, resident Bad Teams historian Danny Chau detailed this season in renegade tanking. Since, Memphis has dropped two more games, once to the Jazz and once to the Mavericks in a convincing 114-80 loss. Dallas, a team also looking to drop in the standings, had little chance to lose against a no–Marc Gasol, no–Tyreke Evans, no–Mario Chalmers Grizzlies lineup.

“Not a lot is clicking right now,” Memphis rookie Dillon Brooks said after the Mavs game. “I guess we’ve just got to clear our heads and go into the next game energetic and act like we love the game.” You will love the game so much more with Deandre Ayton, my child.

The 17-game losing streak is the league’s longest this season; the 18-48 record is a breath and a turnover below Phoenix’s (19-49) for the worst in the NBA. Here’s what to watch out for (not literally, please do not watch the Grizzlies): If the team can drop an additional six consecutive games, that ties the franchise record of 23, set in the 1995-96 expansion season in Vancouver.

Hype Meter: 9/10 (IDK, Phoenix Also Looks Pretty Bad)

Hype: Kawhi Could Return Thursday

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t strike me as someone who likes surprises. But, learning that Kawhi Leonard, who also does not seem like much of a surprise guy, might return from injury is probably one Pop wouldn’t mind.

Popovich said in January that he “would be surprised if [Leonard] returns this season,” only for the wing to return to practice the following month. ESPN reported over the weekend that Leonard could be back on the court as soon as Thursday, for San Antonio’s game against New Orleans. The Pelicans, currently in fourth position in the West, are just one game ahead of the Spurs, the seventh seed. The season isn’t over for Pop and LaMarcus Aldridge, but after dropping seven of their past 10, the Spurs are in desperate need of a Leonard-driven boost.

Which Leonard will be on the court is uncertain. When he did play this season—a nine-game stint in December in which he was never on the court for more than 30 minutes, or active in more than two consecutive games—the former MVP candidate hardly looked Klaw-like. What we now know is that at that time, Leonard was reportedly telling the organization that he was not ready to come back to action. But, this time, Leonard’s return could look better, since it’s on his terms.

Hype Meter: 8/10

Concern: Kyrie May Miss Time to Rest His Knee

After missing the second half of Boston’s 99-97 loss to the Pacers on Sunday, it was announced that Irving will take “the necessary time” for his knee soreness to go away. You have to love seeing an Eastern Conference father-son tradition carried on. (Though LeBron James, for the first time in quite some time, doesn’t have the luxury of an in-season rest-cation.)

Irving explained that he feels “comfortable” enough with Boston’s place in the standings to rest, but he wasn’t specific about how many games he thought he would miss. Brad Stevens wasn’t sweating Irving’s absence postgame, and neither was GM Danny Ainge, who said on a radio show last week that the organization is “OK with him missing some games.”

At 46-21, the Celtics are 10.5 games ahead of the Pacers for the second seed. A first-place finish isn’t out of the question, with Boston lagging behind Toronto by 3.5 and 17 games to go. But the Raptors are 15-1 in their past 16. If there ever was a recipe to wearing Kyrie down, it’s chasing a squad that looks like Toronto.

Concern Meter: 0/10