Warriors ready for fresh start as they prepare to face Spurs
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant is confident Golden State’s struggles down the stretch might be just what makes the defending champions dominant on the postseason stage again.
Maybe not quite 16-1 this time around, sure, yet plenty capable of another remarkable run.
“I always knew everybody on our team had a good spirit, a good energy for the game,” said Durant, the reigning NBA Finals MVP. “We might have lost some games and had some tough stretches but that doesn’t define everybody here as an individual player. I’m kind of positive on, optimistic on each of these guys and how we approach the game no matter what the score of some of those games. I’m glad we can kind of learn from those tough times and continue to move forward.”
The Warriors have been hurt and humbled. Beaten handily and beat up hard. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry is expected to be sidelined the entire first round with a knee injury. Four All-Stars — Curry, Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson — were out together at times, too.
On Saturday afternoon, Golden State begins its championship quest with Game 1 of the best-of-seven first round against the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena.
“We learned a lot,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Every experience that you gain you can learn from. This has been such a chaotic month with all the injuries and the meaningless games. We’ve been frustrated. We haven’t performed very well. The good news is we have performed well for four years, so we know who we are. We know what we’re about. We know this team well, we know the Spurs well, so we know what we have to do. We’ve got to go do it. The last month is meaningless now. Everything starts over.”
Some of that is what Kerr gained from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: “You take whatever is in front of you and you embrace it.”
Here are some key story lines for the Spurs-Warriors series, a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals swept by Golden State:
A SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP
Kerr hardly played during four seasons with San Antonio late in his career.
Still, Popovich is one of his favorite people — even if he wants nothing more than to eliminate his dear friend.
“Pop doesn’t like to see me lose. I like to see him lose. He’s had way too much success already,” Kerr cracked. “I think sometimes Pop needs to be humbled a little bit. So I’m looking to really rub it in and enjoy if we’re able to beat them.”
Kerr added: “I want Pop to win against anybody else. We’re that close. He’s my mentor and he’s somebody I feel incredibly strongly about in terms of who he is and what he did for me in my life, and what he’s doing for my son right now.”
NO CURRY OR KAWHI
Golden State has gone without Curry for 16 of the last 17 games as he worked back from another injury to his troublesome right ankle only to sprain the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in his return March 23.
Curry is scheduled to be re-evaluated Saturday yet Kerr noted that “he’s not close to playing.”
The Warriors also aren’t expecting to see Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. He played in only nine regular-season games because of a lingering right quadriceps injury.
Durant and Green insist it’s time to start taking defense more seriously.
“Now we can focus in on what we always do good here, it’s flying around on defense, moving the basketball,” Durant said.
The Spurs realize the challenges.
“They are smart, they are long,” Manu Ginobili said. “They are very quick to switch back to the matchups they want. They’ve got a lot of long wings that recover very quick. ... There’s a reason why they’ve been winning so many games.”
While the Warriors endured a stretch of seven losses in 10 games, the Spurs dealt with their own eight-game skid down the stretch.
And San Antonio went just 14-27 on the road.
Even if the Spurs’ 2017 series with the Warriors was swift, this is a fresh chance.
“It’s a new year,” LaMarcus Aldridge said. “This team has fought and put ourselves in a position to be here. Last year is last year.”
CENTER BY COMMITTEE
It might be Zaza Pachulia. Maybe JaVale McGee. Or Kevon Looney. David West will get his minutes, too.
Each offers something uniquely different as the Warriors go with a center-by-committee approach.
Kerr isn’t saying which big man he will start — he’s not giving Popovich any early clues. And Kerr said he and Spurs staffer and son, Nick, are cutting off communication for a couple of weeks.
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