Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul will be back soon. The 38-year-old future Hall of Famer, who broke his hand during a game against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 5 and had surgery three days later, fully participated in Wednesday’s practice, according to coach Steve Kerr. Paul will miss Golden State’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, but won’t be out for much longer.
“He’s doing great,” Kerr told reporters. “Just played 5-on-5, took part in our whole practice. He’s getting close. He won’t play tomorrow, but he’s feeling really good. He played a lot over the All-Star break, he told me, so the next step is for the training staff to get a feel for where he is conditioning-wise and just make sure everything is set for him to be out there.”
Heading into Friday’s game against the Lakers, the Warriors are 27-26 and 10th in the Western Conference. They’ve won eight of their past 10 games, and during that span, they’ve scored 120.9 points per 100 possessions (which is one percentage point better than the Boston Celtics’ league-best mark this season) and allowed 111.2 per 100 (which is point better than the Oklahoma City Thunder’s fourth-ranked defense).
All of this is to say that Paul will return to a team that has changed in many meaningful ways during his absence. When he fractured his second metacarpal, Draymond Green was suspended, Andrew Wiggins was coming off the bench, Kevon Looney was (sometimes) starting, Gary Payton II was injured, and both Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody were frustrated with their respective roles. Now Golden State appears to have found something with a new starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Brandin Podziemski, Wiggins, Kuminga, and Green, which has outscored opponents by 27.1 points per 100 possessions in 106 minutes since Green’s return. Just before the break, Klay Thompson came off the bench for the first time since he was a rookie and played his best game of the season.
At practice on Thursday, Kerr showed the Warriors the standings. The point was to “make sure they know what’s at stake,” Kerr said.
“We’re in 10th, we’ve been on a good run, but we’ve gotta carry that forward,” Kerr said. “And there’s no reason why we can’t keep winning and do what we did a year ago, which was climb up the standings and put ourselves in a favorable position for the playoffs.”
Last season, Golden State was 29-30 and 10th in the West after losing its first game coming out of the All-Star break. Then it won 15 of its final 23 games and finished sixth, avoiding the play-in by the skin of its teeth.
When Paul returns, his presence could complicate how the Warriors close games, but he should also stabilize a second unit that now features two former All-Stars. He and Podziemski have worked well together, and having too many players who clearly deserve significant minutes is surely a welcome problem for Kerr, who has dealt with the opposite issue for most of the season.
After the Lakers game, Golden State will host the Charlotte Hornets on Friday and the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.