Programming note: Warriors-Lakers coverage tips off Friday night at 7 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territorial restrictions apply)
The Warriors expect to have Stephen Curry back in the lineup to face the Lakers on Friday, and there are at least 30.3 reasons why they really, really need him.
In two games without Curry, the Warriors are 0-2 and average 77 points.
In eight games with Curry, the Warriors are 8-2 and average 107.3 points.
The 30.3-point difference is dramatic, yes, but no more so than that between an offense with Curry on the court and an offense with him observing from the bench.
As the Warriors were stifled in an 88-81 overtime loss to Memphis on Wednesday, it became apparent how crucial Curry is to their offense. And it hardly matters whether he's in his usual role as point guard or the occasional role of off guard.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors drop 11th straight to Grizzlies]
Because Curry usually has the ball and is the Warriors' best playmaker, opposing guards and wings are forced to devote a piece of themselves to the passing lanes. This requires energy that can lead to fatigue that is exacerbated if the Warriors are playing at their preferred fast pace.
The result is better spacing throughout the game and, often, cleaner looks later.
“It changes the spacing, it changes where guys are on the floor, where guys catch the ball,'' forward David Lee said. “And we discussed that after our loss at San Antonio without Steph.''
The challenges of playing without Curry became evident when the Warriors mustered a season-low 74 points and lost to the Spurs by 2 back on Nov. 8. Acknowledging it is one thing, however, overcoming it quite another.
“He's a big-time player and not having him hurts us,'' coach Mark Jackson said. “(But the) next guy stands up.''
Sounds good, yes, but reality can be harshly inconsiderate. The Warriors may pursue victory with any lineup available to Jackson but they have no chance to be exceptional without Curry, no matter his role.
Because he usually has the ball and is such a threat to fire from long distance, opponents must constantly be alert to Curry's location in relation to the 3-point line. The eyes of at least three defenders constantly drift in his direction.
The result is more opportunities for other shooters – particularly Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes – to get lost as opponents shuffle about to contain Curry.
“We’re capable of getting easier shots,'' Lee said, “just because we've played with that lineup in many so more games. Guys are in different spots when Steph's not in there, or when any key guy from the starting lineup is out.''
Though both Warriors losses without Curry were against quality teams, they also provided graphic illustrations of his value. They know everything about the offense changes for the worse without him, which is why they are so eager for his return.