Andrew Wiggins returning with vengeance in Warriors-Kings playoff series – NBC Sports

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SAN FRANCISCO – Andrew Wiggins spent the 2022 NBA playoffs suffocating demons he heard but never felt. After chirping for years in Minnesota, they followed him to the Bay Area until he muted them last spring.
The members of Negative Nation are persistent, though, and enough of the little creatures recovered to return during Wiggins’ recent seven-week absence from the Warriors.
Wiggins is letting down his teammates. He’s coasting but still cashing his checks. Is his family issue too serious for him to play basketball? A lot of pro athletes have personal drama, but they play anyway.
He doesn’t love basketball.
Did he ever?
The noise is neither as loud nor as persistent as it was a year ago, but it is enough to refuel the beast within Wiggins.
It was a driving force behind him reaching the highest points of his career last April, May and June. And there is just enough of it now that he seems determined to silence it once more.
“I’m approaching these playoffs the same way, just going in there and leaving it all on the floor,” Wiggins told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. “I’m trying to get every rebound, trying to defend full court, trying to score the ball. Whatever I can do to help us win.”
Wiggins turned 28 in February, shortly after the month turned cruel. He left the Warriors on Feb. 14 to attend to a significant family matter, reportedly related to his father’s health. He believed it was serious enough to require his presence for an extended period.
The Warriors allowed Wiggins time to manage the circumstances, cope with his plight and be present for his loved ones. Though players and coaches occasionally reached out, none attempted to persuade him to return.
Yet, even in absentia, Wiggins earnestly sought to remain connected.
“I tried to watch every game I could,” he said. “I was trying to find ways to feel like I’m involved and a part of the team.”
Wiggins watched the Warriors go 14-11 over the final 25 games of the regular season. He noted areas he believed his presence could have made a difference. Kevon Looney’s titanic rebounding, the junkyard-dog defense of Klay Thompson and Donte DiVincenzo — all trying to help fill the void.
Though a part of Wiggins ached to return, a bigger part of him knew he would have ached even more if he had.
There is now enough, just enough, family quietude to allow Wiggins to be present for his family – but from enough distance to resume his basketball career and address deficiencies he witnessed from afar.
“I always feel I can help the team,” he said. “But I was just watching to see what we didn’t do well that game, or what we could have done better. But every game, they fought. Sometimes we made mistakes down the stretch.
That happens to everybody.
“But with all that happened in the regular season, we’re still in the place we want to be.”
The Warriors’ goal in mid-February, before Wiggins left, was to pull their struggling act together tightly enough to finish among the top four teams in the Western Conference. It was a long shot made longer by his departure.
Sixth place, thereby avoiding the play-in tournament, became the more reasonable goal for Golden State. Done. The Warriors will face the third-seeded Sacramento Kings in the first round, with Game 1 scheduled for Saturday in Sacramento. Wiggins is expected to officially make his return.
When I asked Wiggins what he missed most during his time away, he replied within a nanosecond.
“The competition,” he said, leveling his gaze. “Just going out there and competing with these guys. Being out there with them on the floor and around the locker room and on the road trips. Just being around the fellas. And having fun. Playing basketball and having fun.”
That’s the kind of week it has been. A return to normalcy. The Warriors, to a man, insist the general tone has changed over the past week. That their tendency for slipshod performances, seen so often during the regular season, has been banished to the past. The next few weeks will confirm or refute this.
Wiggins says he feels good physically, is excited to be back and focused on doing his part.
“The team we have is talented, with a lot of people that can do a lot of things,” he said. “Loon has been incredible on the boards all year. I want to come back and help him, take some pressure off him. Defense, I want to help Klay and Donte.
“I just want to come back like I never left.”
That’s the objective. Should Wiggins accomplish it, maybe it will be enough to bury the demons for good. Maybe.
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