For the first time since Feb. 28, when Kevin Durant hobbled off the court at Washington’s Verizon Center less than two minutes in, the Warriors are hoping to have their four All-Stars on the floor together in the regular-season finale on Wednesday against the Lakers.
Durant left the court in D.C. to audible gasps and visual angst when center Zaza Pachulia fell into his knee. There was fear he’d be done for the rest of the way, ending this season’s top story line. It came out last week on Bill Simmons’ podcast that Durant initially did get the diagnosis that he was done for six months, having fractured his left tibia. He admitted to crying and losing it in frustration. Fortunately, a CT scan revealed a tibia bone bruise and Grade 2 MCL sprain. The difference in recovery time meant everything.
Durant was back in the lineup last Saturday night after practicing for the first time earlier in the week. He threw down an emphatic dunk on the first possession in a 123-101 win over New Orleans, moving around with no hint of a limp. Durant finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but never shared any time on the court with Curry, who was resting a sore knee. Klay Thompson got the night off on Monday, so it will be interesting to see how guys blend with such little preparation time before the playoffs begin against Portland this weekend.
Curry averaged 27 points per game in Durant’s absence and rediscovered his dominant trigger-happy form, so Golden State’s goal over the final week is to get everyone as comfortable prior as possible.
The Warriors have gotten into a groove without Durant, but it’s not like they’re going to be worse off without him. His size is an asset on defense. His ability to create offense has made him a lock future Hall of Famer. Although Curry’s offense appeared to suffer at the onset as he made sure Durant got enough looks to get comfortable, he got it going enough to still be dangerous. Golden State had the largest point differential in league history before Durant was injured.
The risk isn’t that they will be worse off now that he’s back, or even that he’ll disrupt chemistry. Simply put, it’s rust, and the fact that games will now be spaced out differently with the postseason here. If Thompson or Curry have a rough shooting night, the narrative will be out there that it’s due to them having to accommodate Durant, which will make for some interesting reading.
What makes a potential adjustment period dangerous is the fact the Trail Blazers are capable of stealing a game with their own shooting prowess. Damian Lillard is an Oakland native and has gotten loose in his hometown before. He just scored 59 points in a win over Utah this past weekend and has demonstrated a knack for shooting in the clutch this time of year.
Backcourt mate CJ McCollum averaged a career-best 23.0 points per game, giving them the crown as the league’s highest-scoring guard combo (50.0 ppg) over Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan (49.9), Curry and Thompson (48.8), and Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal (46.0). Although the Warriors beat Portland badly in all four of its regular-season meetings, winning by an average of 19.5 points, the most recent encounter was a two-point loss on Jan. 29.
Golden State also hasn’t seen the Blazers since they added center Jusuf Nurkic from Denver. He really improved the team before suffering a leg injury that has kept him out all of April, but the expectation is he’ll be out there for Game 1.
If you’re contemplating wagering on a series price for Warriors-Blazers, I wouldn’t recommend backing a sweep. It wouldn’t surprise me if Portland won multiple games in a first-round series against Golden State, which I believe despite hanging on to a season-long prediction that the Warriors are going to ultimately win the championship.
WestgateLV Superbook has put the Warriors at 1-to-4 to win the West and 1-to-2 to win it all now that Durant is back, making them an even heavier title favorite after the Cavs slid to 7-to-2 and San Antonio went to 9-to-1.
I’m in agreement they’ll bring another NBA title back to Oakland. It’s just going to be a bumpier ride than many would expect.