Since Kevin Durant went down with a bone bruise in his knee, the Warriors have dropped two consecutive games, which is something they had gone the previous 146 regular season games without doing. What was until earlier this week presumed to be a cakewalk to the NBA Finals is now merely a team that is just heavily favored to do so.
In a short stretch, Stephen Curry is shooting worse than he ever has a pro:
Klay Thompson, against the Bulls on Wednesday, shot 1-11 from beyond the arc. Yes, they’ll shoot better a vast majority of the time. But, they’ll also be playing a lot of teams who are better than the Bulls — even the inexplicably unbeatable TNT version.
It would be a stretch to say that even the record-setting Warriors of last regular season could have withstood that poor of a shooting night from the Splash Brothers, but they had to sacrifice their depth (Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut) to make room for Kevin Durant amidst salary cap constraints. The month or more without Durant is going to test them, and because they are under such a microscope we’ll all be watching like hawks for every sign of frustration boiling over. Draymond having to yell at someone besides Durant? How many clipboards will Steve Kerr break?
In these circumstances, it will be tempting to think that it matters that much for Golden State to stave off the Spurs (3.0 games back) and the Rockets (7.5 GB), but that really isn’t that big of a deal. Even if the Warriors go 10-11 the rest of the season they’ll be a 60-win team. The most significant variable is how quickly Durant’s knee can a) get back in the lineup, and b) get comfortably back in the flow.
The Warriors must balance a timetable that optimizes proper healing with the luxury of reintroducing him in a role where he doesn’t need to immediately re-assume his role as focal point in the offense. The ideal timing would be if he could be ready for the first round of the playoffs, which begins six weeks from Saturday.
While the Warriors have earned the benefit of the doubt such that panic would be an overreaction, there is some cause for concern. You can’t take health recovery for granted. We’ve reached a point with Durant where “growing injury history” is in headlines.
Durant is just 28 years old, but he’s in his 10th season and has been playing deep into the playoffs for years. We see LeBron do that and show no signs of wear and tear, but almost nobody else in human history is a cyborg like that. What if he can’t get back at all until the second or third round of the playoffs?
The Rockets and Spurs are not chopped liver. With a healthy Durant the Warriors would be heavy favorites over them but if he’s less than 100% or God forbid unavailable the tables are turned. And that’s to say nothing of the Cavs, who if they remain healthy, ain’t losing to anyone in the East.
It sucks that it took Durant’s injury to infuse drama into this NBA season, which we’d all been assuming was a two-horse race, but but the storylines especially in Western Conference are heightening as we speak.