It’s been four long years since Kevin Durant played in front of Golden State Warriors fans. That was Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, where he returned early from calf injury to try to carry the Warriors to a third championship in a row. Durant had been Finals MVP twice in two seasons and now saw his team get down 3-1 to the Raptors without him. One more loss and the Warriors would be out, having lost the last two Finals they’d played without him.
So he returned for Game 5, hoping to help them win three straight to save the season. But just 11 minutes into the game, he suffered a complete severing of his achilles and would miss the entire 2019-20 season as a result.
The Warriors lost the 2019 Finals, and then lost Durant in free agency. And he hasn’t played in front of Warriors fans since.
Now, we may only be days away from that happening. Durant’s Phoenix Suns are 45-36, locked into the 4th seed in the West playoff picture. Their first round opponent looks like it will be one of the Warriors or the LA Clippers.
The Warriors are 43-38 with one game to play and now have a 40% chance to claim the 5th seed and face the Suns in the first round of the 2023 Playoffs. At the minimum, they have to win their game on Sunday vs. the ultra-tanking Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday afternoon to finish 44-38.
The Blazers (33-47) are working very hard to hold onto their 5th-best odds in the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery. They are just one game ahead of the also-tanking Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic with one game to play. A win on Sunday would reduce their chances at the #1 overall pick (from 10.5% to 8.3%) and a top-4 pick overall (from 42.1% to 34.8%).
Expect the bottom-five of the Blazers roster to play as many minutes as they can handle. They have no interest in playing a part in who gets the 5th seed in the West. Trust me.
If the Warriors win that game, their only competition for 5th place is the Los Angeles Clippers, who have to win BOTH of their remaining games to also finish 44-38. The Clippers opponents? Those same Blazers tonight, and then the resting Suns on Sunday. If the Clippers win both, they would take the 5th seed because they have the tiebreaker over the Warriors (better division record).
You already know how bad the Blazers want to lose. The Suns, on Friday, don’t want to risk any injuries among a top-four that’s already missed, collectively, 98 of a possible 324 games this year (30%). They are also missing T.J. Warren (illness), and are now dealing with injuries to Cameron Payne (bruised coccyx) and Bismack Biyombo (knee) suffered in Friday’s game. On Sunday, you’ll likely see a number of guys packed in bubble wrap watching a bare-bones rotation play 48 minutes against the Clippers.
If the Clippers win both games, they play the Suns in round one and relegate the Warriors to the 6th seed. That would push a potential KD reunion with Warriors fans to the Conference Finals, at the earliest.
Other news around the league:
- The 6th seed — likely the Warriors — get to face the Sacramento Kings in the first round
- The New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers look like they will be battling for 7th place, and the right to face the Grizzlies or Nuggets in the first round
- The Dallas Mavericks have fallen all the way into the abyss, giving up on the season to hold onto their #10 draft pick. They rested their whole lineup on Friday night. LOLOLOLOL