Injuries are a normal part of the NBA and something that every NBA team has to deal with. The Golden State Warriors were just recently affected by an injury to a player that isn’t even on their own roster though.
The Oklahoma City Thunder announced on Friday that Kevin Durant, reigning NBA MVP and superstar, could possibly be shut down for the season. He has been “removed from basketball activities,” and Thunder general manager Sam Presti said that Durant is not “making the progress” that the team had expected.
So how does an injury to a player on another team affect the Warriors? As of now, the Warriors have the best record in the NBA at 55-13, which gives them the top seed in the Western Conference. If the playoffs started today, they would be facing the Thunder, who would have the eighth seed in the West, in the first round.
The Thunder are in a tight playoff race with the New Orleans Pelicans. Although Pelicans star Anthony Davis is currently injured as well, his injury isn’t expected to be as serious as Durant’s is.
Therefore, the Warriors could potentially either be facing a Durant-less Thunder team or the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs. Any playoff matchup presents its own challenges, but either of these circumstances would be highly preferable to facing a fully healthy Thunder team.
It would’ve been a poor “reward” for the Warriors to earn the top seed in West and then have to face a highly competitive, experienced Thunder team in first round. The Thunder have much more talent on their roster than a traditional eighth seed, and they fell to the eighth seed primarily because of several injuries to both Russell Westbrook and Durant during the season.
Facing Westbrook in the playoffs certainly wouldn’t be ideal either because of the recent surge he’s had, on the court and in the MVP race, but it certainly wouldn’t be as dangerous as having to face both Westbrook and Durant, fully healthy.
In addition, the Warriors just faced the Pelicans on Friday and won 112-96. In their two other matchups with the Pelicans, they won convincingly 112-85 on December 4th at home and won again in New Orleans 128-122 in overtime. They face them once more in the season on April 7th in New Orleans.
The Warriors’ matchups with the Thunder this season have been much closer and more back-and-forth, except for one game. On November 23rd, the Warriors beat the Thunder on the road 91-86. They beat the Thunder again at home 114-109 on December 18th, and then they won convincingly at home again 117-91. In their final meeting of the season, the Thunder beat the Warriors at home 127-115.
The Warriors match up better with the Pelicans, even with Davis on the court, and the Warriors could use the Pelicans’ inexperience in the playoffs to their advantage. In addition, the Thunder have arguably one of the best and loudest home crowds (behind the Warriors, of course) in the NBA, so the Warriors’ home court advantage in the first round might not be as beneficial as it would be against other teams.
Those are some of the reasons why the Warriors would fare better against the Pelicans in the first round than the Thunder, when they’re healthy.
In addition to Durant’s injury, the Thunder are also dealing with some other injuries to key players. Serge Ibaka will be out five more weeks due to knee surgery, and newly acquired center Enes Kanter has been dealing with wrist and ankle injuries.
The Warriors have been very fortunate to stay mostly healthy this season (knock on wood), and it’s unfortunate that the Thunder’s season might be decided because of serious injuries to key players. No team should ever have to suffer through that, but that’s part of the harsh reality of sports. Despite these unfortunate injuries that the Thunder are dealing with, this might open the door for the Warriors to have an easier matchup in the first round of the playoffs, either against the depleted Thunder or the Pelicans.
We don’t know for sure yet if Durant will in fact be shut down for the rest of the season, but it will definitely be something for Warriors fans to monitor.
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