Now that it looks like Kevin Durant is close to returning, everybody in the NBA needs to run and hide from the Golden State Warriors.
It wasn’t too long ago that the sky was falling in Oakland. The Warriors had lost three games in a row for the first time since November of 2013 and with Kevin Durant‘s knee injury putting him on the shelf indefinitely, the narrative was that their title hopes were faltering.
Then on Saturday night, head coach Steve Kerr addressed the media saying his eight-time all-star is “at least a couple weeks away” from returning.
Though that wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement to eradicate all trepidation, Warriors beat writer Anthony Slater provided a video of Durant that breathed a fresh wind of life into the fan base.
Some of Kevin Durant's pregame workout. Closes it with pretty explosive drive/dunk off that left knee pic.twitter.com/2Qp7CQFdD4
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 26, 2017
That’s a fairly encouraging sign. This doesn’t appear to be a guy that’s “at least a couple weeks away.” He’d obviously need to go through contact practices and work himself back into game shape, but that’s not an incredibly long process.
With that said, it’s incumbent upon Kerr and the coaching staff to fight that urge to bring him back too soon for obvious reasons.
First off, we saw how well that worked out for Steph Curry in the playoffs last year. It didn’t. He was clearly not the same player because of the limited lateral mobility. That’s important for players with their game predicated on being a lethal shooter.
They need a healthy Durant in order to reach that goal of winning a championship. The Western Conference playoffs are shaping up to be a slugfest. The Rockets are on fire. The Spurs are the Spurs. And don’t sleep on teams like the Jazz, Clippers and Grizzlies. This won’t be a stroll across the Golden Gate bridge for the dubs.
Secondly, circumstances dictate decision making. When they brought back Steph prematurely, it was a mere reaction to losing a playoff game to a talented Blazers team, who pulled to within a game of knotting the series up at two apiece.
These aren’t the same circumstances. Following a 106-94 victory over Memphis, the Warriors have now won seven straight by an average margin of 17.7 – impressive. They now lead the Spurs by 2.5 games for first place in the West.
And it’s a streak they desperately needed considering what’s on tap this week. First, it’s a trip to Texas to play Houston and San Antonio on back-to-back nights.
The Rockets have won 7-of-8 games, capped off by a win over the Thunder in which they became the first team in the modern era to shoot 75 percent from two-point range, 50 percent from downtown and 80 percent from the charity stripe. Their lead by James Harden, who is the favorite, at least in my eyes, to win the MVP award.
Then comes the game everyone is waiting for. Warriors at Spurs in what will be the biggest game to date for both teams. A victory for the Spurs inches them to just one game back in the loss column. One for the Warriors probably all but clinches the No. 1 seed. They’d be up three games with nine left to play. Remember, SA owns the tiebreaker too.
Golden State will then return home to host the Rockets and the Wizards. They’re in the midst of a brutal five-game, make or break stretch. And so far, they’re ahead of the curve.
Even if they manage to finish 4-1, this would put them in optimal position — assuming that one loss doesn’t occur on Wednesday night in San Antonio.
If I’m the Warriors, here’s my plan: Durant returns on April 8, a home game against the Pelicans. He then rests against Utah when they play two days later and returns for the regular season finale against the Lakers. And since the idea is to be extra cautious, you’d obviously cap his minutes each game when he first comes back.
This would allow Kerr to ease him back into the rotation with the conspicuous challenge that awaits with everyone having to relearn how to play with KD. And if you end up with a favorable matchup in the first round, it would align perfectly with him gradually getting back to 100 percent.
You absolutely don’t want to take any risks because losing Durant would mean the season is over before any coronations. This is the best way to guard against that.
The hope is that the Durant that played 59 games, averaging 25.3/8.2/4.8 on 53 percent shooting (37 percent from three) with 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals is the one that will be suiting up for the stretch run.
Lost in all the Harden/Russell Westbrook/Kawhi Leonard shuffle is the fact that KD was having an MVP-caliber season. He’s on pace to finish with the best offensive rating and defensive box plus-minus marks of his career. He’s truly had a tremendous inaugural season in Golden State.
So now, the sky isn’t falling anymore because winning is the best medication. It has simultaneously silenced all the critics while affording the Warriors more time to exude patience when bringing Kevin Durant back.