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2018 NBA playoffs: The X-factors that will shape the Western Conference playoffs

2018 NBA playoffs: The X-factors that will shape the Western Conference playoffs

As we get set for the start of the 2018 NBA playoffs this weekend, let’s take a look at a handful of notable questions that could determine how things shake out in the Western Conference bracket:

The state of Stephen Curry’s knee

Yes, the Golden State Warriors still have three other All-Stars to lean on while Curry gets right following a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. No, the Warriors haven’t really had much to play for in recent weeks, with the Houston Rockets running away with the West’s top seed and Steve Kerr’s club locked into the No. 2 spot. And yes, the Dubs have also had to deal with a bunch of other injuries down the stretch, spending time over the season’s final month without Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Patrick McCaw, among others.

But you’d be within your rights to worry that the Warriors’ underwhelming close to the season — 4-6 since Steph went down, a negative point differential, only one win over a playoff-caliber opponent — offers an indication of how vulnerable Golden State might be in the postseason without a fully operational Curry. There’s a reason why the Warriors went 41-10 with Curry in the lineup this year and 17-14 without him, and why they outscore opponents by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, compared to a plus-2.9-per-100 mark when he sits.

No matter how much other talent Kerr can call on, or how great Quinn Cook’s been as his understudy, Curry’s still the centerpiece of everything Golden State does. If he’s back at 100 percent for Round 2, the Warriors should still be the favorites to repeat as NBA champions. (So far, so good: no setbacks, reportedly.) If he’s not, they could be poised for their first early exit of the Kerr era. — Dan Devine

What does Oklahoma City do when teams hunt Melo?

Conventional wisdom tells us the Oklahoma City Thunder are built for the playoffs, when stars hold the cards and slimmed-down rotations mask shallow depth charts. But there’s still one glaring issue in OKC: Carmelo Anthony, a 33-year-old future Hall of Famer with 40,000 minutes logged in the NBA, isn’t that guy anymore.

Oh, sure, he’s capable of dialing up a throwback performance on the offensive end, where he’s built a 15-year catalog of buckets turned up to the highest shooting volume. But those have been fewer and farther between in a season that’s seen his true shooting percentage drop as close to 50 percent as it’s ever been. His defense has dropped even further, from indifferent to disastrous — to the point that it’s not incendiary to suggest he’s a detriment.

Houston’s win over OKC last monthpreviewed what’s to come for Melo in the playoffs. </span><a href=&quot;http

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