CHICAGO (AP) — Coach Steve Kerr was bracing for the worst after Kevin Durant injured his left leg. Instead, he and the Golden State Warriors were breathing a little easier on Thursday.
They expect their superstar forward to return — and perhaps during the regular season. And that sure beats the alternative.
“At first, we thought he was done for the year,” Kerr said. “The second prognosis was way better than the first. Just given that sequence, I think he’s feeling a lot better about things now than he was at first.”
The Warriors had good reason to be nervous after Durant hyperextended his knee 93 seconds into Tuesday’s loss at Washington. But they also had reason to be relieved on Thursday.
An MRI confirmed Durant sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and bruised a bone in his leg. He’s out indefinitely, but the Warriors expect their superstar forward to return this season.
“There was definitely a sense of relief that he’ll be able to come back at some point down the stretch of the season,” two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry said Thursday in Chicago. “Our job now is to (continue) being us, continue to get wins, continue to play well, continue to build toward the playoffs and then when he’s able to rejoin us, hopefully, we hit our stride and be ready to try to win another championship.”
Golden State boasts the NBA’s best record, has a playoff spot locked up and is focused on a second championship in three years. But Curry and Co. might have to get by without their leading scorer and rebounder for the remainder of the regular season and maybe even longer.
Durant, averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds, was injured when teammate Zaza Pachulia fell into him after being pushed by Wizards center Marcin Gortat.
Durant is scheduled to be re-evaluated in a month. That would leave about two weeks remaining in the regular season if he is ready to return then. The playoffs start in mid-April.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” Draymond Green said. “We’ll have to do it by committee. One guy isn’t going to come and bring 26 points and eight rebounds per game. Multiple guys have got to step up. Some guys’ minutes will increase.”
No doubt, losing their big man is a huge blow for the Warriors. They became the earliest team in NBA history to clinch a playoff spot when they beat Brooklyn on Saturday and are trying to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
But it’s not as if they haven’t won in a huge way without Durant. They captured the NBA championship two years ago and then set a league record with 73 victories on the way to their second straight finals last season, before signing the 2014 MVP to a two-year deal.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Green said. “We’ve still got to go out and win basketball games. ... Home court in the playoffs, of course that’s the goal.”
Kerr mentioned the supporting cast is different this season. But he also said the Warriors “did a really good job filling those spots.”
“I think we’re strong off the bench,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of depth compared to last year. But last year doesn’t really matter.”
Golden State signed forward Matt Barnes to replace the injured Durant, adding some toughness and defense to a team gearing up for another deep playoff run. He spent two years with the Warriors earlier in his career and helped them beat Dallas in a stunning upset in the 2007 playoffs. He also played for Phoenix when Kerr was the Suns’ general manager.
“I love his competitive desire,” Kerr said. “He’s crazy in a good way. You need guys like that.”
The 36-year-old Barnes played in 54 games for the Sacramento Kings this season before being waived.
“Just excitement,” Barnes said. “Tremendously humbled. It’s a team everybody talks about, the chemistry they have on and off the court and the way they play for each other. That’s something I want to be a part of.”