The Golden State Warriors’ road to a championship just got a whole lot rockier.
According to the team, small forward Kevin Durant suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in Tuesday night’s loss to the Washington Wizards and will be reevaluated in four weeks. It has not been ruled out that he could return before the end of the regular season. The injury took place early in the first quarter, when Wizards center Marcin Gortat threw Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia into Durant while jostling for a rebound.
And so begins a different version of the same old Warriors story.
Last April, not long after they’d become the first team in league history to win 73 regular season games, Steph Curry went down with ankle and knee injuries in the first round against the Houston Rockets that ultimately proved too much to overcome. He came back, of course, and even put up a few MVP-caliber performances along the way before the Cleveland Cavaliers won it all in those seven-game Finals.
But the lack of rhythm, the changed mindset, the inability to play with the kind of fearlessness that makes the stars great, was enough to change the landscape for the Warriors. This is the brutal reality about championship pursuits, where every elite team is just a setback away from being able to get their grip on the Larry O’Brien trophy.
As for the more immediate stakes at hand? The Warriors (50-10) are currently four games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (45-13), meaning there’s still plenty of time for them to lose homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. Their schedule is manageable, with 12 home games among the final 22 and only 10 games coming against teams that currently have a winning record. Four of those games, however, come against the Spurs (March 11 and March 29) and the Houston Rockets (42-19, third in the West, games on March 28 and March 31).
The Warriors wasted no time searching for support, as they agreed to sign veteran small forward Matt Barnes (who was recently waived by Sacramento). The 36-year-old Barnes was part of the “We Believe” Warriors team in 2006-07 that upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks as an eighth seed before falling to Utah in the second round.
Since leaving Oklahoma City behind and signing with the Warriors last July, Durant (25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game) had fit in seamlessly this season. His defensive prowess was perhaps the most unexpected part of his debut Warriors campaign, as he is the team’s leading rim protector (1.64 blocks per game) and a major reason they boast the league’s second-ranked defense (101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions, bested only by San Antonio).