How Kevin Durant's early NBA Finals absence affects Warriors' matchups

How Kevin Durant's early NBA Finals absence affects Warriors' matchups

It's a good thing the Warriors got back into the groove of playing without Kevin Durant during the Western Conference finals because it looks like they'll be without him at least for the early portion of the 2019 NBA Finals. 

On Thursday, the team announced that Durant has yet to resume basketball activities and is "unlikely' to play at the beginning of the Finals.

After sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors have a week to rest before the title round begins in either Milwaukee or Toronto.

With the Bucks and Raptors locked in an all-out war for the Eastern Conference title, Warriors fans have been watching every minute of the East finals to figure out which team they would rather face when the Dubs pursue their fourth title in five seasons. 

Make no mistake, whichever team the Warriors face in the NBA Finals will be a much stiffer test than Cleveland Cavaliers were last year.

With Kawhi Leonard appearing hobbled following Game 3, the Raptors looked to be the weaker of the Warriors' potential NBA Finals opponents. But both teams will present significant issues for the Dubs when the lights are brightest, and Durant's inability to suit up might alter the Warriors' desired potential matchup.

Durant's early-series absence only further amplifies the danger the Warriors will face in the NBA Finals if the Raptors are able to advance past the Bucks. 

Even without Durant, the Warriors match up well with Milwaukee.

Milwaukee's guard play has fallen off as the Eastern Conference finals have drug on. The trio of Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill, while reliable defensively, struggled in Game 4 at Toronto and would be horribly overmatched by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

While Giannis Antetokounmpo is an MVP candidate, the combination of Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and the Warriors' coaching staff should be able to find a way to make life tough on the Greek Freak, similar to the way the Raptors bottled him up in Games 3 and 4. 

Durant would be missed early on against the Bucks, but the Warriors could easily be able to weather the storm without him.

That might not be the case if the NBA Finals open up at Scotiabank Arena.

Facing the Warriors without Durant would give the Raptors the ability to have Leonard shadow Curry or Thompson instead of occupying his time hounding the two-time NBA Finals MVP. The ability to have Leonard, one of the best on-ball defenders in NBA, take out one of the Splash Brothers could greatly hamper a Warriors offensive attack without Durant. That also alleviates some of the defensive pressure on an aging Danny Green and a banged up Kyle Lowry. Toronto could have Leonard guard Curry, Green on Thompson while hiding Lowry on Iguodala.

Durant's absence also leaves the Warriors with one less defender to bother Leonard. Thompson has the capability of battling the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and Iguodala could battle him for stretches, but Durant's length on the defensive end is a vital tool that will be missing early on in the NBA Finals.

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The Warriors are likely to be without Durant and DeMarcus Cousins at least for the early part of the NBA Finals. While the Dubs have the talent to withstand those absences against no matter who the opponent is, a matchup with the Raptors sans KD would be a tough way to open the championship round.

Rockets send absurd James Harden tweet after Giannis wins 2019 NBA MVP

Rockets send absurd James Harden tweet after Giannis wins 2019 NBA MVP

On the day the Raptors held their championship parade, the Golden State Warriors took out a full-page ad in the Toronto Star congratulating the franchise on its first NBA title.

Classy gesture by a classy organization.

You know which franchise isn't classy? The Houston Rockets.

Shortly after Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was voted the 2019 NBA MVP on Monday night, the Rockets’ official account sent a tweet that was an attempt to congratulate The Greek Freak. Really it was just a thread trying to make the case that James Harden should have won the award.

The voting had been tabulated and the award had been handed out, yet the Rockets still we’re trying to argue for their guy. They couldn't even get a simple congratulatory tweet right.

This seems par for the course coming from a franchise that cried for a "fair chance" during the second-round playoff series with the Warriors and sent a memo to the NBA claiming the refs cost them the NBA title in 2018.

Oh, and let's not forget about owner Tilman Fertitta's epic rant after the Rockets' Game 6 loss to the Warriors, in which he said his team should have cut the Warriors’ throats in Game 5 when Kevin Durant suffered a strained right calf.

[RELATED: CP3 refutes trade request rumors]

Considering how much losing the Rockets have done over the last few years, it's surprising they haven't figured out how to lose with class.

This should have been Giannis' night. Instead, the Rockets again tried to make it about themselves.

Warriors draft pick Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for NBA


Warriors draft pick Alen Smailagic eager to prove he's ready for NBA

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have a timetable for the development of Alen Smailagic that seems reasonable for the 18-year-old rookie from Serbia.

Give him two years, and maybe he’ll be ready.

But if you bring that timetable to Smailagic, he pounces and swats it into the fourth row.

“I don’t think so, that it’s going to take me two or three or four years,” he said Monday after a news conference introducing the team’s rookies. “I think I’m going to do good this year. I already told them that I don’t want to just wear the jersey. I really want to play.”

He gets points for confidence. Smailagic (pronounced Smile-a-GEECH) sees the Warriors trying to fill a roster with a plethora of openings and visualizes himself pulling on his jersey, No. 6, and jogging onto the floor at Chase Center next October.

The Warriors, after all, could use a skilled 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward/center that plays hard and has a high basketball IQ. Smailagic flashed those assets last season, while playing 818 minutes, spread out over 47 games, for the team’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

That that he accomplished that as the youngest player in G League history persuaded the NBA Warriors, fearing another team may come after their secret stash, to move up and use the first of two second-round picks (39th overall) to select him. Because Smailagic was 17 at the time of the 2018 NBA Draft, he was ineligible to be chosen. To play pro ball in America, the G League was his only option.

“They didn’t disrespect me because of my age,” Smailagic said of his experience in Santa Cruz. “They really wanted me to play and they reacted to me like I’m a professional.”

Though Smailagic was projected to go late in the second round, somewhere between pick Nos. 50 and 60, the Warriors heard enough from Santa Cruz coach Aaron Miles and general manager Kent Lacob that they didn’t want to risk losing him.

Indeed, there is a firm belief within the organization that he has considerable potential, perhaps enough to be a starter, if not a true impact player. That potential, however, is years away.

“He’s going to be a player in the league,” one Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “He can be really good if his body continues to mature. There is no question about his desire or his skill.

“But I think he’s a couple years away.”

If Smailagic can make the roster as a two-way player -- a distinct possibility -- that would be a triumph for someone much more uncertain about his command of English than his game, and whose previous experience was in the European junior leagues.

Smailagic, nicknamed Smiley for obvious reasons, says as he grew and gravitated toward basketball, he studied Warriors superstar Kevin Durant -- “He’s really tall and he can jump, he can dribble, he can shoot. He can do everything” -- and also Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica, another native of Serbia.

[RELATED: Warriors' Jordan Poole ready to capitalize on opportunity]

Asked if he cared to pattern himself after Durant or Bjelica or anyone else, Smailagic wasted no time replying.

“No. I didn’t have that kind of mindset, because I want to play how I play.”