DENVER -- David Lee, after addressing the media, went to sit next to Stephen Curry before practice Sunday. Like a man 40 years his senior, Lee eased ever so slowly onto the wooden bench. And while Lee relayed details of his season-ending hip injury to Curry, the strong and positive countenance he exhibited for the cameras morphed into astonishment.
"I'm pretty good at putting up a front like everything is good," the Warriors' All-Star power forward said before Golden State's practice. "Last night was almost a feeling of disbelief. ... Injuries happen. That's a given. But the timing of it, and I've waited so long, I had my best season as a pro. That's the toughest part."
Sunday morning, MRI results revealed exactly what Lee feared when he felt a pop in his right hip in the fourth quarter of Game 1 Saturday. He sustained a complete tear of his right hip flexor, ending his first trip to the playoffs in eight NBA seasons.
The Warriors -- down 1-0 to a superior Denver squad -- are now forced to climb these rocky mountains without one of their best players. Compounding Golden State's woes is Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, known as the "Manimal," said he will play in Game 2 on Tuesday after missing Saturday's game with a sprained ankle.
"It's always tough to handle and deal with the emotions of it, but we still have a task at hand," Curry said. "But hopefully guys are able to step up and provide what D-Lee provided for us as a group. ...
"It might inspire guys to understand they have an opportunity to step their game up and mean as much to this team as D-Lee does. We have a lot of guys capable of doing that."
Coach Mark Jackson wouldn't tip his hand as to how he would reallocate Lee's 30-plus minutes per game. But the likelihood is Carl Landry, Lee's backup, will start. When Landry is not in the game, the Warriors probably will go with one of their rookie small forwards, Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green, at power forward. Veteran Richard Jefferson is also an option. That still might not be enough.
The Warriors, in some ways, might match up better against Denver without Lee. More minutes from Barnes and Green at Lee's position makes Golden State more athletic and better defensively.
Still, Lee averaged 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists. More than that, he made opposing defenses guard him. His multiple skills were a central part of the Warriors' offensive versatility.
"We can't replace him," Jackson said. "And that's the thing we have to know right away. He's an All-Star power forward who's had an incredible year. But we have guys on our bench that can do some things to cover up his absence. But we cannot replace David Lee."
The injury happened with 11:34 left in the fourth quarter. Lee drove in for a layup and was fouled in the air by Denver center JaVale McGee. Off balance, Lee landed on his right leg. His foot jammed into the hardwood as all his momentum continued forward. He eventually got up and shot his free throws. He tried to run back down on defense and immediately realized he couldn't. Lee left the game and didn't return.
"I knew we were going to get the results we did," Lee said. "I went to run back on defense and had absolutely no sensation in my leg. It wasn't even painful as much as it was just dead. I knew that wasn't anything I've felt before. I've pulled muscles or strained muscles before, so I knew this was something different."
Lee said he's been bothered by back issues the last couple weeks, using a heating pad when he's on the bench and ice after games. He said he doesn't know if he injured his hip because he was compensating for his back but doesn't regret playing through the problematic back.
A timetable for Lee's return is undetermined. He said he would seek more opinions about his recovery process. Lee also said he's been told his injury doesn't usually require surgery and that he expects to be ready for training camp in October.
"From what I've been told, it's a couple-months process," Lee said. "It doesn't have too much of an effect on next season. I'll do everything possible and do everything they ask me to do."
GAME 2: Warriors at Denver, 7:30 p.m. CSNBA, TNT
Monte Poole: The pressure's now on Barnes, Green -- and Jackson. Page 3
Curry struggled despite open looks. Page 6