Golden State Warriors star forward Andrew Wiggins will soon face the difficult task of defending four-time NBA champion LeBron James.
The defending champs are slated to kick off their Western Conference Semifinals series Tuesday night at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite the history of King James playing against these Warriors in the NBA Finals, this is the first time Wiggins will match up against the all-time great in the playoffs. He was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves back in February of 2020 and has not faced James in the postseason yet.
For Wiggins, the backdrop here includes what was an extended two-month absence from the Warriors during the regular season to deal with a family matter.
Pretty much unheard of in today’s society, Golden State’s players and organization remained mum about what kept Wiggins from playing the final 25 regular season games. All the while, the former No. 1 pick was receiving a ton of support behind the scenes from the Warriors. Typically not one to open up, Wiggins talked about this ahead of Game 1 Tuesday night in San Francisco.
“Even when I was gone, (his Warriors teammates and team officials) always checked up on me, still made me feel like I was part of the team, so that when I come back I just feel like I’m ready to get going, you know?” Andrew Wiggins said. “I’m forever grateful for what they did.”
Wiggins played his final regular-season game with Golden State back in Feb. 13, dropping 29 points in a win over the Washington Wizards. He did not return to the court until Game 1 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Sacramento Kings. Despite this, Wiggins didn’t seem to miss a beat on either end of the court.
- Andrew Wiggins stats (2023 NBA Playoffs): 18.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 46% shooting
For the star two-way forward, it doesn’t seem as if missing this amount of time impacted him too much.
“I feel like in Game 1, once I scored a couple points, I was like, ‘Pffft, I’m back. I’m good.’ My feel for the game was still there. My rhythm and my conditioning felt good enough to compete. So I think I’m only going to get (better), because my conditioning still needs to get better,” Wiggins said.
Without getting into concrete details about his absence, Wiggins did say that he was still working out in Minnesota as he was dealing with family issues. This helped him make an adjustment to playoff basketball despite having not seen in-game action in two months.
Andrew Wiggins’ importance to the Golden State Warriors
It’s not hyperbole to say that Wiggins has turned into one of the best two-way wings in the game since Golden State acquired him from Minnesota just over three years ago. His ability to put up 20-plus on a nightly basis while playing elite-level defense played a huge role in Golden State’s run to the NBA title last season.
Wiggins was asked to go up against the likes of Luka Doncic in the Western Conference Playoffs before being the primary defender tasked with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the NBA Finals. He played exceedingly well.
The former No. 1 pick from Kansas averaged 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in the NBA Finals. That included a two-game span in which he tallied 29 total rebounds.
Coming off a hard-fought seven-game series win over the Sacramento Kings in the first round, Wiggins knows that said experience helped prepare the defending champs for Los Angeles.
“Oh, a hundred percent we can do it. We’ve got the pieces. We know we got the coaching for it. We’ve got the fans. I feel like we’re in good shape. I feel like this series has prepared us, because this was tough. It was a dogfight, every game. It was hard,” Andrew Wiggins said.
It will be a difficult task going up against LeBron James starting Tuesday night. But if we’ve learned anything from Wiggins’ ascension to stardom, he should be up to the task.