After all the excitement of the NBA trade deadline, the 2016-2017 season went about its normal course with some major and minor acquisitions from different teams. But no such trade took place that could tip the scale of power and change the course of the Playoffs. Although the signing of Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut made the Cavs the new favorites to win it all in the eyes of many, the possibility of a rubber match between the Warriors and the Cavaliers was still on.
But as Durant returned to his hometown to play against the Wizards, Marcin Gortat pushed Zaza Pachulia while trying to grab an offensive rebound and as Zaza fell down on the floor, his head banged into the knees of Durant who was standing right behind him. KD tried to walk it off, but after 2 possessions, he asked to be taken out of the game. Initially it looked nothing too serious and everybody thought that he would return back to the game in a short while. When it was announced that he would not be returning back to the game, it became evident that it was something more than expected.
The atmosphere of the locker room after the game and the succeeding news of the possible signing of Matt Barnes had the fan’s hearts in their mouth. Later on, we got to know through the injury report that it was a Grade 2 left MCL sprain and that he would be re-evaluated after a period of 4 weeks. The news came as a relief to the Warriors and the fans as it was speculated that the injury was worse than it was depicted and that he could have been out for the rest of the season.
And just like that the NBA became exiting again as this injury directly affected many teams apart from the Warriors of course.
The Warriors gave up a lot of their size and depth to acquire the services of Kevin Durant by losing players like Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa to name a few; who were a big part of their 73 win season. With Kevin Durant gone, it leaves the Dubs a bit vulnerable since they don’t have the depth in their bench to support such a catastrophic loss.
KD was not only averaging 25.3 PPG but was also leading the team in blocked shots. He was a big reason that the Warriors were able to fill the void of the bigs that they lost. And now, not just the offense but the defense of the Warriors is bound to take a hit.
With a tough road still ahead of them, 3 games still left to be played against the San Antonio Spurs, who are just 2.5 games behind them; the Warriors need to regroup and quickly find a way to win without KD. They still have 3 all stars on their team and its not like they are going to drop down to the bottom of the table. Worst case scenario, they are going to end up second on the table. But they surely don’t want that to happen and here is why.
Assuming, at the end of the season, the teams end up exactly as they are right now and the Warriors slip down to the second spot, they would play OKC in the first round. With KD to be evaluated after 4 weeks, there is a chance he could return directly in the playoffs. And facing his old teammate Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in the first round would be the last thing he needs when he makes his return. We all know that its going to be an emotional series for him and the drama would be more off the court than on the court, but Warriors are going to win that one. The problem continues as they would most probably have to face James Harden and the Rockets in the second round which could be another nightmare matchup for the Warriors.
The Rockets have been public about their tactic against the Warriors and have said that they are going to hit them with a barrage of three pointers and try to defeat them in their own game. The Rockets are the 3rd seed in the Western Conference and are not to be taken lightly by any means. With a superstar in James Harden and with quality 3-point shooters around him, the Rockets play very similarly to the Warriors and are therefore more than capable of giving the Warriors a tough series. And then if they are able to get through them, they will have to face most probably the Spurs or the Clippers.
On the other hand, if the Warriors are able to protect their 1st seed, they will face the Denver Nuggets in the first round, who are an up and coming team with a lot of young talent, but not enough to take the Warriors to a game 6 or 7. If KD returns directly into the playoffs, it would be much easier for him to get back into his groove against the Nuggets rather than OKC.
Also, once they defeat the Nuggets, they would be facing the Los Angeles Clippers or Utah Jazz. The Clippers started the season great, but haven’t been able to find their rhythm after a series of injuries to their stars. Chris Paul and the crew have now dropped 10 straight games against the Dubs which has certainly provided the Warriors with a mental edge over them. The Warriors would be much happier to go against the Clippers in the second round and let the Spurs handle the Rockets. With Utah Jazz fairly inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs, it is highly unlikely that they could pose a hurdle for the Warriors.
All-in-all it is clear that the Warriors need to find a way to protect their number-one seed and give KD a chance to reach his 100 percent and thus give themselves a better chance to reach the Finals.