With a smile and grin widening on his face, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry uttered some words that Allen Iverson would never say.
“I never enjoyed practice so much,” Curry said.
Why would Curry say such a thing after experiencing more exhilarating highs? After all, Curry won three NBA championship runs. He secured two regular-season MVP performances. He broke Ray Allen’s all-time record for made 3-pointers. Why are we talking about practice?
Simple. Curry scrimmaged on Thursday for the first time since missing the Warriors’ last 12 regular-season games because of a sprained ligament and bone bruise in his left foot. Afterwards, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Curry told him that he “felt good” and offered some encouraging words for his availability when the Warriors host the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Saturday at Chase Center.
“He’s optimistic he’ll play on Saturday, but we’ll have to reevaluate tomorrow to see how his foot responds overnight,” Kerr said. “But right now, things are looking good.”
Kerr shared that assessment after observing Curry scrimmage in three six-minute segments on Thursday without any setbacks. Though Curry has not played since Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart dove into his legs while chasing a loose ball on March 16, Kerr also described Curry’s conditioning as “good.”
Curry reiterated those observations about an hour later to reporters. Though he conceded he felt “a little bit of pain or discomfort” in his left foot, Curry said he has no fear that his foot could worsen by playing.
“It’s about managing it so it doesn’t linger so I can get as close to 100% as possible, knowing I want to be available as soon as possible,” Curry said. “Everything is stable. Everything is fine. If you aren’t far enough long in the recovery process, that’s where it can become more of a problem where it’s something that nags over time. Hopefully, I’m past that hurdle.”
Curry has not cleared every hurdle just yet.
The Warriors will see how Curry responds during Friday’s practice before officially deciding on his availability for Game 1. Kerr also implied that Curry will face a minutes restriction, and added “’he’s not playing 30-35 minutes.”
In a half joking, half serious tone, Curry did not like hearing what reporters relayed to him about Kerr’s plan. Curry added that “we haven’t talked” directly on what the minutes restriction will be.
“I’m not worried about it being a limiting factor in terms of how I approach the game,” Curry said. “Hopefully there’s a little wiggle room.”
At least Curry won’t return as a reserve. After sitting the previous 15 days with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee, Curry assumed a bench role in the Warriors’ Game 4 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2016 Western Conference semifinals. After missing a combined 10 regular-season games and six playoff appearances because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee, Curry played only 27 minutes off the bench in the Warriors’ Game 2 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 Western Conference semifinals.
“That was when I was young and dumb,” Kerr joked. “Of course, now I’m just old and dumb. I haven’t talked to him about it.”
Nonetheless, Curry declared outwardly he will start whenever he returns. Safe to say the Warriors will adhere to Curry’s wishes Not only do they want to maximize their playoff fortunes. They also trust how Curry has handled his rehab anytime he has suffered injuries during his 13-year NBA career.
“It’s the wealth of expertise he’s built and confidence he’s built over time,” Kerr said. “It’s his willingness to be in the training room and doing his work on a daily basis and maintaining his conditioning. A lot of guys, if they scrimmage 18 minutes without being out a month, would get winded after two minutes. Steph is in such great shape and has such an incredible foundation of conditioning that he’s able to maintain his wind, even during his absences.”
That’s because Curry often has worked diligently in the offseason and during the season on conditioning drills. During the offseason, Curry has often worked with his personal trainer, Brandon Payne, on shooting drills that require him to compete at game speed and strength drills that improve the durability of his ankles and legs. He also completes additional conditioning drills any time he does not complete his shooting workouts to his liking. During the actual season, the Warriors have observed Curry taking a similar approach. And when it came to his recent rehab, Kerr noted that Curry completed work on a stationary bike and an underwater treadmill.
“The way I’ve handled injuries before and the work you put in, the conditioning part is the least concerning thing about it,” Curry said. “It’s not like I’m putting myself in jeopardy by trying to go out there. As long as the foot feels good enough, all the conditioning and all that stuff, I have such a strong base that I can make that transition pretty easy.”
No wonder then that Curry scored 40 points in the Warriors’ Game 4 overtime win in Portland in 2016. Or that he averaged 24.5 points on 48.6% shooting against New Orleans in 2018 while gradually increasing his minutes in Game 2 (27), Game 3 (29), Game 4 (32) and Game 5 (37).
Nonetheless, Curry has never nursed a left foot injury until now. For the first two and a half weeks, Curry admitted “I literally couldn’t do anything” while wearing a walking boot. He added he could do nothing to address his bone bruise, other than allowing it to heal organically.
On April 1, the Warriors cleared Curry to complete on-court individual work. Eight days later, Curry reported experiencing a major breakthrough with his rehab while the Warriors played their second-to-last regular-season game in San Antonio. By this week, the Warriors cleared Curry to practice. But it wasn’t until Thursday that he participated in a scrimmage.
“It’s weird how it goes from almost 0% to 75% really quick,” Curry said.
Curry admittedly has not felt 100% yet. Others might not notice. As Warriors guard Klay Thompson observed, “Steph looked like himself.”
No wonder then that Curry admittedly felt excited about practice. He presumably will have stronger emotions pretty soon in an actual post-season game.
“Everything about it was awesome, obviously,” Curry said. “The moment, getting ready for the playoffs, me being out for four weeks. Every step has been in the right direction in terms of trying to get back out there.”
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