Golden State Warriors All-Star small forward Kevin Durant hurt his knee on Tuesday night in a 112-108 loss to the Washington Wizards, and the word is that Durant will be out for a minimum of four weeks. With only six weeks and 22 games left in the NBA regular season, this seems like it could be a big blow to the Warriors' chances at reclaiming the NBA title they lost last year to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, upon further review, the injury Durant can have several positive effects on the Golden State quest to win its second league championship in three seasons.
The Warriors (50-10) currently have a four-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference, a nine-game lead over the Cavaliers for the best record in the NBA overall, and a 13.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division. Golden State would be wise to dismiss its concerns over earning home-court advantage for either the conference or league finals, simply because the best team will win out regardless of where it plays. The Warriors pushed too hard for their 73 regular-season wins last year, and it cost them big time. In the end, Golden State blew home-court advantage in the Finals to LeBron James and Cleveland. Home court just doesn't matter like it may have in the past.
Durant should rest for the remaining 22 games in the regular season, for the following three reasons, if the Warriors want to win their third overall NBA title since moving to California in the 1960s.
1. The Warriors won't win the title without a 100-percent healthy Durant: While Golden State was already a formidable team before Durant joined them in the offseason as a free agent, the team wasn't good enough last year to win it all without him. And they won't win it all again this year without him. The Warriors need Durant to win, and if they try to rush him back too soon, he could get hurt again and be ineffective or out for the entire postseason. Golden State can't run that risk. The Warriors are going to make the postseason; they've already clinched a spot. Now is the time to make sure they enter the postseason with the healthiest Durant they can. He should sit out most, if not all, of the remaining 22 games to get his knee back to a strong and reliable level of strength.
2. The team as a whole should rest for the postseason now, too: As noted above, the Warriors have already clinched a playoff spot. Even without Durant playing, they're not going to finish second in the Pacific Division. Golden State is 8.5 games ahead of the Houston Rockets for the second-best record in the conference, if the Spurs manage to pass the Warriors for the top mark in the West. Realistically, the worst Golden State is going to finish is as the No. 2 seed in the conference. In the past three years against San Antonio, the Warriors have posted a 4-4 record against the Spurs. That's not dominant, of course, but Golden State has outlasted San Antonio in the postseason in both 2015 and 2016. The Warriors need every player on the roster to be rested and ready for the 2017 playoffs, so they can do it again. That means this is the perfect time to start resting other players while Durant is out with injury.
3. The lessons learned from last year's collapse won't be forgotten: Last year, the Golden State organization as a whole was on a mission to break the single-season win record, and in doing so, the team's roster was quite worn out by the time the postseason started. After losing just nine times in 82 regular-season games, the Warriors lost nine times in just 24 postseason games. Sure, some of that had to do with the level of competition, but in reality, Golden State just burnt itself out in the regular season. The Warriors needed a historic comeback of their own in the Western Conference Finals against Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates, before they collapsed in the Finals against James and the Cavs. The team knows the big prize is the ring, and the entire Golden State organization is going to sacrifice what it needs to (in this case, a few meaningless regular-season wins) in order to make sure it wins that final game of the season once again.