SportsPulse: While Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr feels Steph Curry won’t be ready for the start of the NBA playoffs, the perennial All-Star is ready to prove him wrong.
USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Durant doesn’t mind making predictions.
Take the MVP debate, for example.
“James Harden,” the Golden State Warriors star told USA TODAY Sports recently when asked to make his pick.
Is it close?
Not even with LeBron James making the kind of late push that has forced voters to take a closer look?
“I mean (LeBron) is definitely playing great ball, but I just think that James has had a way better year,” he adds.
But turn the topic to his injured Warriors, to the question of whether or not they’ll be able to defend the title and keep their would-be dynasty afloat, and the prognosticating comes to an end.
“I can’t predict that – I wish I could,” said Durant, who has averaged 26.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks during his own MVP-caliber campaign. “But I feel good about where we are. I feel good that we had to go through some stuff, to figure some stuff out.”
To say the least.
When two-time MVP Stephen Curry suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain on March 23, it put Durant front and center. After everything that happened these past few months – the Warriors (56-21) sliding into second behind the Houston Rockets (62-15) in the West while all four of their All-Stars suffered ailments of one kind or another – Curry’s injury was the one that mattered most.
It put pressure on Durant to lead like he did in December, when the Warriors went 9-2 without Curry after he sprained his right ankle. Only this time, the prospect of Durant having to lead the way during playoff games suddenly looms large. And the Warriors, who have lost seven of their last 12 games while playing without Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for various stretches, may be in for a first round fight.
“If Steph comes back, obviously we’ll all be excited and we’ll be a better team,” Durant said. “But if he doesn’t, I can’t hang my head about that. I’ve got to go out there and play as hard as I can. Klay has to go out and play as hard as he can. Draymond, everybody down the line.
“Everybody has to be on point, because it’s a team game. We all move as one. If two or three guys aren’t focused on the play, you’re still going to lose. It doesn’t matter. That’s what I learned (through) winning a championship. If we get there, that’s what we’re going to have to do and that’s why it’s so hard.”
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The opening round possibilities are suddenly compelling – none moreso than the one that’s on display tonight when the Warriors face Durant’s old team in Oklahoma City.
Just imagine the environment at Chesapeake Energy Arena for a possible Warriors series, with Russell Westbrook facing his former co-star while Curry sits and all that shared history stews. Yet no matter the opponent, this much is clear: The Warriors’ misfortune means the air of invincibility that once surrounded them is gone – at least for now. And Durant, who missed six games recently with a rib injury but returned on Thursday, has no problem acknowledging the reality of their challenge.
“We know how good Houston is,” he began. “We know how good OKC is. We know how good Utah (is), because we play these guys, you know what I’m saying? That’s why we know the narratives, because we come in and we play Utah and we know they’ve gone 22-4 (now 22-5) since they beat us (on Jan. 30).
“It’s cool that people (looked) at us like we’re invincible, but we’re not, and you see it with the injuries that we have. We’re not superhuman. I think when we play basketball the right way, we’re damn good. But if we don’t come out there and focus, we can lose to anybody, and you’ve seen that.”
Case in point, Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
Of all the Warriors games that Durant makes a point to learn from, that one tops the list. He remembers how Cleveland ended Golden State’s perfect playoff run, downing them 137-116 at Quicken Loans Arena, leaving an indelible mark before they won it all in Game 5.
“I knew how hard it was to beat those guys,” Durant said. “You see when we weren’t focused, and we weren’t locked in for Game 4, we lost by 20 points – easy. I watched the whole game over and over again.”
He recalls the specifics as if the game tape is playing right in front of him.
“We didn’t switch well on the guy coming out of the corner – boom, hit a three,” he said. “Let somebody go back door because we’re not even looking at our guy, and we’re not focused in – boom, layup. That stuff can happen. We didn’t get an offensive rebound, and the guy running down the lane gets an and-one. Now we’re down 10.
“Come down, shoot a bad shot. …That stuff compounds itself. We can’t just go out there and expect to be lazy and go on and win. Nah, no team in the history of the league has been able to do that. The best teams we’ve seen with a lot of talent – the Bostons, the Miamis, us, they’ve got a lot of talent but they were focused, locked in, on every possession. That’s what creates champions. It’s not just the talent. You’ve seen it with Cleveland a couple of years ago (when they came back from the 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors before Durant signed). They were focused, and every possession they wanted to win so bad. That’s what creates champions.”
And health, of course. If this season has reminded them of anything, there’s that painful – and impossible to predict – truth.
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