Stephen Curry's injury has suddenly changed the NBA playoffs and opened a window that once seemed inconceivable

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  • Stephen Curry’s injury and the Golden State Warriors’ recent sloppy play has some teams believing they are more vulnerable than ever.
  • For the first time since the Warriors became a juggernaut, they’re entering the playoffs having to “flip the switch” into their usual level of play.
  • With a rash of injuries and tougher competition this year, the Warriors might have a tougher path than ever to the Finals.

The Golden State Warriors have looked sloppier than usual in recent months, thanks to a rash of injuries and general malaise – and now the rest of the NBA may see them as more vulnerable than ever.

The Warriors enter the NBA playoffs having lost 10 of their last 17 games, with their offence and defence both ranking below the league average over that span. Additionally, Stephen Curry will be out at least one round while recovering from a sprained ligament.

Curry’s injury and the Warriors’ recent disorder have helped other Western Conference teams’ confidence heading into the postseason, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

On his podcast, “The Lowe Post,” Lowe said some teams would prefer to face the Warriors right now, in a first-round series – without Curry and coming off a sloppy finish to the season.

“I was talking to several coaches and execs from teams in the West morass from 3-9 – the fear factor for the Warriors without Curry does not exist,” Lowe said. “I mean, there are people who’d say, ‘I’d rather play the Warriors right now in the first round than the Thunder or the Jazz.'”

While Curry is expected to return this postseason, the growing belief that the Warriors are vulnerable raises broader questions about whether they will round into form when the playoffs start on Saturday.

When the Warriors signed Kevin Durant in 2016, they were thought to be injury-proof – they had enough talent that even if one of their best players got hurt, they could still succeed.

Curry, the engine of the Warriors whose skill set helps generate the entire offence, apparently changes that.

While Durant is as close to unguardable as there is in the league, and while Klay Thompson can keep a defence honest with his shooting range, without the threat of Curry pulling up from 30 feet and dragging opponents away from the basket, the Warriors aren’t the same.

And for the first time since the Warriors juggernaut formed, they enter the playoffs with questions about “flipping the switch.”

Think back to 2016, when they had just capped off a historic 73-9 season, or to last year, when the most significant question entering the playoffs was whether they would lose a single game (they went 16-1 en route to the championship).

Before this season began, many thought a Warriors championship was all but certain.

They slogged through the past season, but can they now round into form on a moment’s notice and become the fast-paced, swarming, lethal team we’ve known them to be?

Most in the NBA world believe the answer is yes, mainly because the Warriors have indicated all season that this year would be a grind as they wait for the playoffs, their true season, to begin. The Warriors’ combination of talent, experience, and coaching won’t allow them to perform in the playoffs the way they have over the past month.

But there’s risk in playing half-heartedly for long stretches and then trying to turn it on when needed. One league source said the danger in the “flip-the-switch” mentality was that it lowers a team’s ceiling – the team hasn’t been playing at its highest level, and by the time it tries to, it can’t be as good as it should be. The necessary repetitions aren’t there.

And the danger is that this year, there may be teams good enough to make the Warriors pay for not being 100%. In the first round, they will face the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs, a team so disciplined and well-coached that it can make any series a challenge. Should they advance, they will play the winner of the Portland Trail Blazers-New Orleans Pelicans series.

And at the end of the tunnel, they may face the Houston Rockets, the best team in the NBA this season – one that has slowly turned sceptics into believers.

Add to this Curry’s injury, along with questions about how healthy he’ll be when he returns and how quickly the team can jell again, and the Warriors’ championship hopes might be dimmer than we’re used to seeing.

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