DENVER (CBS / AP) — Curbing Stephen Curry and his three-point prowess is job No. 1 for the Denver Nuggets.
Curry leads the Golden State Warriors into the Pepsi Center for a first-round series starting Saturday that many consider the marquee matchup of the first round because it pits two exciting, high-octane teams that love to run.
Might as well dust off the old red, white and blue basketball from the old ABA as much as everyone’s expecting these two teams to get up and down the court.
While the Nuggets pile on points in the paint better than any team in the league, the Warriors do their damage from the fringe. They led the NBA with a 40.3 three-point percentage.
Curry, storming back from two years of ankle problems, shot his way into NBA history by sinking 272 3-pointers this season, three more than former record-holder Ray Allen had for Boston in 2005-06.
On Friday, he became the first Warriors player since Chris Mullen in November of 1990 to win Western Conference Player of the Month honors after averaging 25.4 points, 8.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.13 steals while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range in eight games in the month of April.
“It may be genetic,” said Nuggets coach George Karl, who coached Curry’s dad, Dell Curry, in the late 1990s in Milwaukee. “His dad was a great shooter and it’s amazing, he probably is a better shooter.”
All the attention the younger Curry attracted this season freed up his backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, who sank 211 long-range baskets.
That’s 483 between them, the most by any duo in league history.
The Nuggets will send a wave of defenders at Curry to cool his hot hand, including Ty Lawson starting out and including healthy doses of Andre Iguodala, their best perimeter defender.
“You’ve just got to be aware of where the shooters are,” Iguodala said. “Good defense can be beat sometimes by three-point shooters. But if you play the percentages, make them take tough shots, contest the shots, the percentages kind of fall toward the defense.”
Lawson said he wants to force Curry to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop to keep him from finding any rhythm.
“Just be physical with him. He wants to shoot, so don’t give him too much space. Just make him drive,” Lawson said. “Even when he does drive, he wants to step back and get a jump shot.”
And when he steps up behind the arc …
“I’ve got to be out there,” Lawson said. “I know his range. I’ve been watching his game and his range is unlimited. Once he crosses halfcourt, I’ve just got to be no more than one step away from him.”
After having problems with his now twice-surgically repaired right ankle the last two seasons, Curry had a breakout year.
He was a cumulative 16 of 25 from long-range against the Nuggets this season, but three of those games were played in November and one in January, so Denver’s 3-1 series win isn’t much of a gauge.
Still, Curry got a feel for how Denver likes to defend him.
“They switched a lot, because they have the personnel to do it,” he said. “With Ty Lawson, Andre Miller and their wings, they have so many wings, Iguodala, (Corey) Brewer, (Evan) Fournier’s playing now. Wilson Chandler is able to switch. One through four, they can do it. Not sure what they’ll try when we start out the series. You just have to be ready for everything.”
If the Nuggets succeed in making him miss, “we still have other guys that can get involved,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. “If they’re going to focus on Steph, even though he’s our best shooter and our best offensive scorer, I think we have enough threats out there where Steph is happy to be a distributor and get a lot of assists, which is generally what he does when teams do that.”
To counter the attention Curry commands, coach Mark Jackson plays him off the ball at times, especially at the end of games, when Jarrett Jack comes in at point guard and the Warriors go to a three-guard lineup.
If the Nuggets can disrupt Golden State’s shots, the key for them becomes rebounding, which jumpstarts their fastbreak barrage, something that would be a lot easier with forward Kenneth Faried on the floor to keep Golden State’s All-Star forward David Lee in check.
Faried, Denver’s top rebounder, has been out a week after spraining his left knee against Portland on Sunday. He practiced on a limited basis Friday, running a few plays in a scrimmage, walking through a handful of other plays and running “gassers” with the rest of the team afterward.
“I don’t think that decision can be made today,” Karl said of Faried’s availability for Saturday. “Got to wait until tomorrow.”
Faried was also non-committal: “I’m not saying I’m not. I’m not saying I am. The plan is just to come in and be with my teammates. And even if I’m not playing, I’m going to be on the bench cheering for them.” Faried said the Nuggets did well without him last week and “that’s why I’m not in too much of a rush to get back. I want to be 100 percent.”
Either way, Wilson Chandler will get the start in place of Faried, Karl said. Chandler has been terrific either starting or coming off the bench ever since January, when he was finally fully recovered from offseason hip surgery.
Curry, who led Davidson to two NCAA tournament berths, has a history of rising to the challenge in big games, including a career-best 54-point game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27, when he sank 11 3s.
“For me, it’s about consistency and how you approach the big game. You don’t get too hyped for the Madison Square Gardens, the Staples Centers, the nationally televised games more so than you do a Tuesday night game against the Phoenix Suns,” Curry said.
“He was born with bright lights,” Jackson said. “He had a dad that was a professional athlete. The pressure was always on him to live up to expectations. And then on top of that, being good as a child of a professional athlete, the expectations are even higher. He embraced it, didn’t run from it and has been extremely successful with that.”
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