OAKLAND, California – Months ago when the season began, the Golden State Warriors focused all their energy on incorporating Kevin Durant.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson figured out how to share the shots with another superstar added to the mix, while Draymond Green adjusted to fewer attempts on offense and welcomed another defender who could wreak havoc and block shots.
When Durant returns from a left knee injury Saturday barring any setbacks after missing more than a month, he will rejoin a Golden State group on a roll that appears poised for another deep postseason run. The Warriors have said all along they will settle for nothing less than a second championship in three years after last season’s near miss.
Durant was medically cleared during a day off Thursday to resume full practice beginning Friday. He is tentatively scheduled to play against New Orleans.
Any challenges working KD back into the mix?
“Hell no, absolutely not,” Green said. “He’ll fit in right in, but we don’t need him to fit in. I think that’s what people kind of get mixed up. He wasn’t brought here to fit in, he was brought here to stand out. I think that’s what’s important. We don’t need him coming back trying to fit in with what’s going on. We need him to come back and be KD. And that’s what he’ll do. It’d be foolish of anyone, especially us, to think that we’re a better team without him or we’ll do whatever we want to do. Nah. We can’t wait ’til he gets back, for sure.”
Golden State’s co-leading scorer along with Curry at 23.5 points per game and the top rebounder, Durant was hurt Feb. 28 at Washington when Marcin Gortat pushed Zaza Pachulia and Golden State’s center fell into Durant, who has missed 19 games since with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bruised tibia.
“He’s been plugged in, understanding from game to game things we’ve been talking about, so mentally we’re all on the same page. I wouldn’t call it having to hit reset,” Curry said. “KD’s such a smart player understanding his skill level and his talent that the things we’ve been doing well he will take us to another level, hopefully. It shouldn’t be much of a transition back.”
When Durant went down, Golden State had to find a way without him — and it wasn’t pretty for a while. The Warriors lost four of their next six games, suffered consecutive regular-season defeats for the first time in nearly two years and even experienced a three-game skid for the first time since November 2013.
They played eight games in 13 days with two cross-country trips, a return for one in Oakland before back-to-back defeats at Minnesota and San Antonio on March 10-11.
No losses since. A season-best 13-game winning streak, the NBA’s best record and No. 1 seed in the West for a third straight season.
Opposing coaches can only brace for what the Warriors will look like when the playoffs begin next week with even more firepower.
“You can’t overlook Kevin Durant being out,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Where are they going to go when they get him back? The depth of the team, you can’t replace a guy like Kevin individually. You do that with your team and their team play has been phenomenal, so they’re getting the best out of everybody.”
Coach Steve Kerr can crack all the jokes he wants about Durant’s impending return.
“I may not play him,” Kerr said. “We are so much better without him. … Maybe bring him off the bench and play him spot minutes depending on matchups.”
“I can tell you I’ll start him,” Kerr continued with the wisecracks, “I’m so smart like that.”
Yet Kerr can and will be cautious in how much he plays Durant right away, especially given how great the supporting cast has performed.
From Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala to newcomer Matt Barnes, who was added when Durant got hurt, Ian Clark and JaVale McGee, Golden State has received strong contributions from just about everybody on the roster during KD’s absence.
Curry and Thompson have found their shooting grooves, too.
“The chemistry the last couple years that we’ve had is so underrated, and I think Kevin, he really just fits in with that same chemistry,” Livingston said. “You look at the guys out there, versatile. He’s probably the most versatile player out there. He can get his in any way, so we don’t really have to spoon feed him or force feed him. He can come in and just fit right in and take over a game.”