Whenever Durant returns, Blazers-Warriors series shouldn't change much

Whenever Durant returns, Blazers-Warriors series shouldn't change much

I suppose a person could, if properly motivated, make an argument that without Kevin Durant, the Golden State Warriors tend to make a more concerted and consistent effort defensively.
It’s a grab at straws, of course, because the Warriors are a strong defensive team in general (and take your complaints about Charles Barkley to Charles Barkley, okay?), but as a function of beating the Portland Trail Blazers, 110-81, in this Western Conference first round blowout-under-construction, they negated what the Blazers did well in Game 1 (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum) without being hurt by what they didn’t (the rest of the roster), and turned a relative white-knuckler three days ago into a stern and comprehensive smothering.
So maybe that’s the actual myth of Kevin Durant – that the Warriors should be fretted over without him. They are better with him, and only a moron would argue otherwise, but it may well be that they personally emphasize their defensive requirements more assiduously.
“They understand that on their own,” head coach Steve Kerr said as he surveyed the box score that showed that Portland scored 35 points in the second half. “They know that defense is what we’re built on. People talk about our shooting and our guards all the time, but this has been a great defensive team since, well, since before I got here. I think it’s been the last five years.”
Close enough; they’ve been in the top fifth of the league in defensive rating each year since 2014, and the least of their defenders are still league average or above. And if defense was strong before Durant arrived, it would stand to reason that defense would remain a mental emphasis.
Indeed, Wednesday’s performance probably made it more difficult for Durant to play in Game 3, because whatever urgency Kerr could fight off to play him in Game 2 with his wonky calf muscle is that much less urgent in Game 3.
“If he can play, he’s going to play,” Kerr said, “but if there’s any question, then we won’t play him.”
Indeed, there are more things for Portland’s Terry Stotts to think about between now and Saturday, starting with the seeming disappearance of his backcourt. Lillard and McCollum were guarded with more bodies, got fewer good looks, and missed 25 of their 34 combined shots. McCollum in particular looked like he was hampered with an injury that kept him from being as physically dynamic as he was in Game 1, and without big man Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers had to play both small and short, and could do neither well.
There is no smart guess on if/when Nurkic will be back, although healing rates have been proven to increase in direct relation to the number of wins the opponent has. It is also unclear on how much of a difference he can make, save disrupting McGee and Zaza Pachulia from having their run of the paint. Indeed, this series has not played to expected form because of all the missing and disadvantaged pieces, but the differences between the two sides are still as stark as your typical No. 1-No. 8 match.
And it only stands to be more stark when Durant returns, whenever that is.
“Obviously they’re a better team with him on the floor, more talent and more weapons,” Lillard said afterward, “but they were a championship team before he got here. So we didn’t look at it as an opportunity with him not being off the floor. We knew it would be tough either way.”
And it has been. Barring a massive change in both teams’ form in Portland Saturday and Monday, it seems likely to stay that way.

LeBron reacts to Kyrie Irving trade: 'What a ride...'

LeBron reacts to Kyrie Irving trade: 'What a ride...'

The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving lasted just three seasons.

Despite making it to the NBA Finals in all three seasons, Irving wanted out of the partnership.

On Tuesday, he got his wish as the Cavs traded him to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick.

While the rumor was that Irving didn't want to play with James anymore, the four-time MVP had nothing but nice words to say about Irving on Twitter a few hours after the trade became official.

"That's the only way to be to the kid! Special talent/guy! Nothing but respect and what a ride it was our 3 years together Young Gode," James wrote in response to a short video of a fan placing a 'thank you' note on Irving's No. 2 Cavs jersey.

James and Irving won't have to wait very long to see each other again. The Cavs and Celtics face each other on Opening Night in Cleveland.

All the NBA deck chairs have been moved, but it doesn't even matter

All the NBA deck chairs have been moved, but it doesn't even matter

The Kyrie Irving-from-LeBronville Heights-to-Bahstin trade is rightly being called a blockbuster because it engenders so many concepts at once – making the second-best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference seemingly better than the first-best team with one phone call and five shifted bodies.

At least that’s how it plays outside the Bay Area, because now that the Golden State Warriors have taken ownership of the entire league, Kyrie Irving’s whereabouts don’t actually change the balance of power – because there is none.

There’s the power, and there’s the other 29 teams.

Plus, and this is a forgotten element through all the machinations of the NBA’s Meth-Bender Summer, the league is fighting over individual pieces when the Warriors are preaching the virtues of the mega-ensemble.

Irving wants to be the focus of his team, which seems to fly in the face of Boston’s ball-movement philosophy. Paul George, who complained when he didn’t take the last shot in a playoff game this April, is in Oklahoma City with the master of the me-first game, Russell Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony is still in stasis but constantly mentioned as the next Houston Rocket, joining Chris Paul and James Harden in what would seem to be the living embodiment of The Total Is Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts ball.

Unless, of course, all these assumptions are wrong, and all the relocated stars suddenly find the virtues the Warriors displayed in boatracing the field this year and become not only unselfish offensively but more stridently devoted to defense. All these players are bright, determined, and seemingly open to new ideas (well, maybe not Melo, but even that is open to debate), but will they choose to be?

And even more compelling, will there be the immediate payoff in doing so?

On Question A, let us be charitable and suggest that they can do that. On Question B, however, such a return seems unlikely unless the Warriors either devote themselves to the pursuit of self or fail to avoid the medical department.

There is something worrisome about the sureness with which people are conceding 2018 – can all these self-absorbed morons be right? Things can happen to great teams, even in the NBA, which is the most hierarchical of sports.

But only the Warriors can beat the Warriors, because Kyrie Irving the Celtic does not seem at first glance to be better positioned for a parade than Kyrie Irving the Cavalier.

And that’s true of every roster move this summer. Deck chairs were moved for a better view, but the bridge is manned by the same captain, at least for the time being.