After a trying few weeks, the Warriors finally welcome back two of their four absent All Stars to the starting lineup Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kevin Durant, who has been out with a right rib cartilage fracture, and Draymond Green, who was recovering from a pelvic contusion and the flu, expressed excitement to be back in action at shootaround Thursday morning.
Durant said he was ready to go out, play his best, and most importantly, have fun:
“I’m just excited that I’m coming back now, Draymond’s back and Klay’s on his way back, we’re just waiting to close it with Steph. I think everybody knows how to play here, we just want to be individually in a good place with our game.”
Klay Thompson, who has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb, is expected to return Sunday against the Phoenix Suns. Stephen Curry, however, is not likely to return until after the start of the Western Conference Playoffs.
Green seemed unfazed that the team would be without Curry for longer than originally expected:
“I’m very confident. We’ve been there before without Steph. Just like last year. I still felt very confident in us as a team and getting that job done.”
The last and only other time the Warriors played the Bucks was in January, also without Curry, where they won 108-94, with every player on the floor contributing points.
Don’t assume the Warriors are in any way lost without the presence of the injured Curry. Durant made this quite clear when asked if he had thought about how he would get back into the mode of playing without Curry:
“Not really. I know how to play. I’ve been in the league for a while so I know how to figure things out. Offense is a little different without having Steph out there. Now we’re running a couple different plays, that’s just about it. Everybody is still going to play their same game.”
Even though Curry has long since been the Warriors’ poster child, the team doesn’t rely on one or two players to carry them. Players like Nick Young, Quinn Cook and Kevon Looney were called up to play more minutes with the team’s four key players out, an opportunity Durant says can only make the team better:
“I think it’s great for them. Experience is the best teacher. You can workout and practice all you want, obviously that’s great. But if your not getting in the game reps and dealing with the intensity of the basketball game, that’s a little different. I’m glad Quinn, Loon, and Nick and guys that don’t play a lot got some key minutes late in games, which is definitely going to help us just be a better team, just more well-rounded because we’ve got a bunch of veterans that have experienced so much, they can lean back on those experience when they rise again.”
Durant emphasized his appreciation for Cook, who made significant offensive strides since Durant was sidelined. Though Durant acknowledged Cook’s skill set on the court, he highlighted how impressed he was with his ability to roll show up when it matters most:
“I just love his mindset, I love how he wants to learn. He’s continued to figure things out. It’s a difficult task being thrown into the fire, especially being pulled from the G-league back up to coming up to play with us when guys get injured. Not knowing when you’re going to play, then get thrown in the starting lineup. It’s a lot on you mentally and I think he’s done a great job at taking that on and just learning along the way. I’m very proud of him.”
The last time the Warriors faced the Bucks, Cook was inactive. It is not yet clear if or where he will fall in Thursday night’s lineup with Durant and Green back on the floor.
Kerr’s lineups this seasons are anyone’s guess, as he has already utilized 24 different sets of starters, indicating he has more than enough talent to piece together strategic groupings against different opponents. Kerr is likely to create more variations for these few remaining regular season games that don’t matter as much to the Warriors, who have already solidified the number two seed in the Western Conference.
The Warriors have slowed down their pace of game without Curry, though Durant said the silver lining has been finding different styles of play and roles for each player on their roster:
“I think we play at definitely a slower pace because instead of four guys out there that can run around and shoot, we’ve got me and Klay there that can run around and shoot threes, so having Steph out there takes us to another level, we’ve got to figure out ways to make up for that. I think it’s fun and it’s cool that we can play different ways. We’ve got guys that can play different positions and do different things out there that can help us out.”
Green said his week of recovery offered both mental and physical rest to endure what he hopes will be two more months of basketball. He said he plans to go out and continue to lead on the defensive end:
“Obviously I always want to be the leader on that side of the floor. I’ve got to bring it and make sure we are focusing on that side of the basketball. It’s just a focus level and just going in with a defensive mindset.”
Thursday night’s game will offer a glimpse to teams around the league into what a Warriors team with rested stars and a heavily-conditioned bench may look like come the playoffs.