To fulfill goal, Durant must scale the wall known as LeBron

To fulfill goal, Durant must scale the wall known as LeBron

Programming note: Immediately after the final horn of the Warriors-Cavs showdown on Christmas Day, change the channel to CSN Bay Area for a special Warriors edition of SportsNet Central.

For nine seasons and 31 games, Kevin Durant has collected countless accolades in an NBA career thus far defined by a stunning change of address, multiple scoring titles and an MVP award followed by a memorable acceptance speech.

Durant craves only one more substantive addition. He wants an NBA championship.

Which almost certainly means he must scale the wall that is LeBron James.

The next attempt comes Christmas Day, when Durant and the Warriors invade Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland to face James and the Cavaliers. The James-Warriors dynamic is why the team was so relentless and persuasive last summer in their pursuit of Durant.

Moreover, the James-Durant dynamic surely was a factor in KD’s decision to leave Oklahoma City last July and sign with the Warriors.

The two “small” forwards may be the two best players of their era – though Stephen Curry has to be in the conversation – but Durant lags behind James in most every area. When they met in the 2012 Finals, Durant’s Thunder lost in five games to James’ Heat. Durant in his career is 4-17 when facing James.

That qualifies as a wall.

And now Durant has new teammates to aid his climb.

“Every time I play the Cavs with LeBron there, it’s been a big game,” Durant said. “So it’s not like I’m new to the hype around the game. Every time I’ve played against LeBron James, it’s been a huge game.”

This one is huge for the Warriors, whose freshest memories of the Cavs are of the deep disappointment that came with blowing a 3-1 series lead to Cleveland in the NBA Finals last June. The Warriors were in position for back-to-back championships, and the Cavs, with James leading the way, took it away.

That setback strengthened the Warriors’ resolve to chase Durant, while also nudging Durant toward Oakland.

“We feel a little more comfortable going into this matchup, having Kevin Durant on our team,” Warrors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s been a great rivalry the last couple years. LeBron is so good, so big, so strong and smart. He’s a phenomenal player. It’s nice to be able to go back with Kevin; obviously they’ll guard each other quite a bit.”

Well, of course. James will rely on smarts and the brute force of his muscular 6-foot-8, 250-pound body to try to deny Durant, who lacks LeBron’s bulk but stands a couple inches taller.

It is, to a great degree, a battle of brawn vs. finesse.

“When you play against great players, they up the level of everybody,” Durant said. “You bring it when you play against guys like that. It’s somebody that I’m chasing, somebody that I admired coming up, somebody that I’m competing with . . . it brings out the best in you.”

The Warriors concede that after consecutive years facing each other in the NBA Finals there is a rivalry with the Cavs. Everything said and done between these teams goes under the microscope, from James’ tepid reaction to Curry’s second MVP award to Curry’s comment about the visitors’ locker room in Cleveland smelling of champagne to Draymond Green’s dustup with James that resulted in Green being suspended for Game 5 of the 2015 Finals.

The Christmas Day reunion will not be warm.

“It’s two teams trying to get to the same spot. We do it our way. They do it their way,” Curry said. “We don’t know how it’s going to be at the end of the year, but these are games when you’re playing the best team in the East right now. It’s going to be a tough task to get a win. You’ve got to come out and just compete. There’s history. But this is a new start.”

The Warriors last season swept two games from the Cavaliers before losing The Finals in seven. The Warriors have believed they are the better team for at least two seasons. Having Durant, they believe, puts immense pressure on James and the Cavs.

“It definitely changes a lot of things,” Green said. “It helps out a lot. It makes them have to guard us a little more honestly. So it’ll be a good matchup on both ends of the floor.”

Though Durant has been sensational since joining the Warriors, nothing he does will matter as much as his work against James and the Cavaliers. The key to the Warriors coming back at the Cavs is KD’s ability to offset James.

In that regard, Sunday’s game within the game is bigger than the game itself.

“A lot of people are going to be watching,” Durant said. “But just go out there and do what you do. That’s how I try to approach it. I’m not putting the pressure on myself, or any of that stuff. It’s just basketball, at the end of the day. We all lace our shoes up the same. When the ball is tipped up, you’ve still got to be who you are.”

Hopeful night at Oracle turns solemn after Curry sprains left MCL

Hopeful night at Oracle turns solemn after Curry sprains left MCL

OAKLAND -- The words came dribbling out slowly, ruefully and with more than a trace of despair.

JaVale McGee, the 7-foot accidental villain, could barely speak about his role Friday night in the moment that left the Warriors pleading for mercy while their fans were screaming at the sky.

Stephen Curry, returning to the lineup after a six-game absence due to a right ankle sprain, lasted 25 minutes before sustaining another injury, this one a sprain to his left MCL. The two-time MVP will undergo an MRI test Saturday.

“I pray to God,” McGee said, “that nothing’s wrong with him.”

The injury occurred with 3:09 left in the third quarter. After biting on a pump fake by Atlanta forward Mike Muscala, McGee wound up tumbling backward, with his 270 pounds landing directly at the front Curry legs. Curry immediately started limping away, with the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena gasping in horror.

“I was trying to block a shot,” McGee said beneath a vacant stare, “and I ran into him.”

That’s the kind of month it has been for the Warriors. All four of their All-Stars have been knocked out of action by an array of injuries.

Curry went down March 8 after tweaking his surgically repaired right ankle. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were injured March 11 at Minnesota, Durant sustaining a rib cartilage injury after taking a elbow from 7-foot Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and Thompson spraining his right thumb after making contact with Minnesota point guard Jeff Teague.

Draymond Green began the next week as the team’s only healthy All-Star, a distinction that lasted eight days before he was struck down with a pelvic contusion Monday night in San Antonio.

“It’s like a juju or something on us,” McGee said. “I’ve never been part of a team where everybody just got injured, especially the starters. It’s kind of scary to tell the truth.”

Durant, Thompson and Green were unavailable Friday night, which is why Curry’s return was so encouraging. After a 2-point first quarter during which he went 1-of-6 from the floor, Curry found his stroke and over his next 16 minutes scored 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Then came the most frightening moment of the night, throwing a massive damper on a 106-94 victory.

“I assumed it was his ankle when he came out hobbling and I found it was his knee,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We will see what the MRI says tomorrow.

“There is not a whole lot we can do or predict. It’s kind of a strange, cruel twist of fate. He rehabs his ankle for the last couple of weeks and gets that strong and the knee goes. We’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed.”

The Warriors came out of the All-Star break fairly healthy and ready to make a run at the No. 1 overall seed. They’ve achieved it in each of the last three seasons, coming away with two championships.

Hopes of getting there this season have disappeared under a pile of injuries, all of them coming over the last 16 days. As of late Friday night, there was no knowing how serious Curry’s injury is, or how long he might be out.

What’s known is that it was another in a succession of frightful moments.

“It’s a little somber in there,” Kerr said of the locker room. “Everybody feels for Steph. But it’s more a case of just keep going and keep pushing forward. We’ll come into tomorrow, short practice and get ready for Utah.”

That’s at the request of the schedule. That’s a dose of NBA reality on a grim night.

McGee didn’t seem ready for that. He was feeling awful about the entire episode.

“I can’t describe it,” he said of the play that followed everyone into the night. “Everybody has a TV. I fell into him and . . . I know y’all (reporters) don’t think I’m standing here like, ‘Yes, I fell into him.’

“That’s a star player. Of course, we don’t want him to be injured, especially after he came back. So I feel very bad for the fact that I was a part of that.”

McGee said he hopes Curry is out no more than a couple games.

The Warriors would be ever so pleased if it’s a couple weeks. They want to be whole for the postseason,, the only season by which they will be measured and a season that, on this night, nobody was of a mood to visualize.

Curry limps to locker room with left MCL sprain, does not return vs Hawks

Curry limps to locker room with left MCL sprain, does not return vs Hawks

OAKLAND -- Stephen Curry lasted 25 minutes Friday night before limping out of another game.

He was diagnosed with a sprained left MCL and did not return after sustaining the injury.

Curry came up limping after center JaVale McGee, leaping for a rebound, tumbled backward into his lower legs with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter of the Warriors-Hawks game at Oracle Arena.

Immediately, the sellout crowd let out a collective groan.

Curry, his face a mask of dejection, headed for the bench, where he was examined by Warriors physical performance specialist Chelsea Lane. The two then headed into the locker room.

Curry scored a team-high 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before leaving the game. This was his first appearance since March 8, when he tweaked his surgically repaired right ankle, causing him to miss six games.

Curry has missed 21 of the team’s 71 games. He will undergo an MRI on Saturday, and his status beyond that is yet to be determined. 

This story is being updated.