Stephen Curry is back for Game 2, and the Warriors are almost whole again

Stephen Curry gets some work in prior to sitting out Game 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans. (AP)

Stephen Curry is cooking again.

A week after returning from a sprained right knee to participate fully in practice, the two-time NBA MVP will play in earnest for the first time since March 23 when his Golden State Warriors host the New Orleans Pelicans for Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals series on Tuesday night.

Curry’s goal? “Just not suck after missing five weeks,” he told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears.

The Warriors, of course, are expecting much more than that. They have been in a malaise (insomuch as a team that sandwiched two championships around a 73-win regular season can be) for the better part of the season, seemingly tired of laying historical beatdowns on the league for a four-year term.

They beat the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs in five games, but not without a hiccup, and they smacked the surging Pelicans in Game 1 of the second round, led by their three healthy All-Stars — Kevin Durant (26 points, 13 rebounds), Klay Thompson (27 points) and Draymond Green (triple-double). But the West isn’t the cakewalk it was when the Warriors swept that side of the playoff bracket a year ago, and they’ll need Curry to escape a likely conference finals meeting with the Houston Rockets.

They might need him against the Pelicans, too, but the Game 1 win afforded them an opportunity to work him into the lineup at their own pace. Curry wanted back for that one, but his teammates bought him time, and they may steal him some more. Warriors coach Steve Kerr suggested he will ease Curry back in for Game 2, and it’s hard to imagine him being 100 percent even by the end of this series.

Although …

Saturday’s 123-101 win over New Orleans was the best Golden State has looked in weeks. They even got the contributions we once expected from the supporting cast of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West — a veteran trio of champions who have looked their age at different points of the season. Curry’s replacement, Quinn Cook, played well in his absence, and Nick Young made an appearance. The Warriors felt practically whole again, except for one glaring absence — the guy who usually makes them all go. Working Curry back into that mix can only help, however healthy he is.

In the short-term, he makes what was already an uphill battle for the Pelicans a Mount Everest-level challenge. The mere presence of Curry, quite possibly the greatest shooter in the history of basketball, changes the way New Orleans will have to defend the Warriors. Even if his knee and conditioning don’t allow him to endlessly curl around screens in Golden State’s motion offense, they still have to pick him up 30 feet from the basket and can never, ever leave him alone on the perimeter. As well as Cook shot from 3-point range during the regular season (44.2 percent on 3.2 attempts per game), Curry is a different animal, ready to launch if you can’t latch the window shut. The Pelicans will feel the draft.

Even the threat of Curry creates space for Durant and Thompson to cook, too. But threats may not mean as much against a juggernaut like the Rockets. Curry has two more weeks against the Pelicans to get right, because we’ve seen how vulnerable the Warriors can be against great teams when he isn’t. In 2016, the last time Curry returned to the playoffs from a sprained knee, Golden State needed seven games to oust the Oklahoma City Thunder before letting a 3-1 lead slip to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kerr later said Curry never felt right for the rest of the 2016 playoff run, and that would be a problem now that Chris Paul is staring back at him in Houston. Then again, those Warriors added Durant to share the burden for times like these. This edition isn’t as deep, so Curry may have to cook for them to survive the toughest road they’ve faced in the West. Fire up the burner, because Chef Curry is back.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!