If you haven’t noticed, Kevin Durant is settling very comfortably into a leadership role with the Warriors. He’s always produced on the court and provided examples off it, but now he seems to be spreading the full expansive breadth of his wings.
The Warriors have always welcomed this. But now, with five games, three of them two time zones away, over the next seven days, they actually need it.
Stephen Curry is not likely to play this week, leaving considerably more room for Durant. Even if Draymond Green returns Monday night, and there’s a good chance he will, Durant still is positioned to carry the team.
“We’re always going to put the ball in Kevin’s hands if Steph is out,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s a no-brainer.”
Durant seems to sense this. Always the elegant scorer, he was a basketball maestro on Saturday, still getting his buckets, dropping an efficient 28 points, but also serving as the team’s primary catalyst in a 116-100 demolition of the Nets.
Durant recorded 11 assists in 30 minutes. It’s not easy to do that without Curry around to cash in on a few of those dimes, but Durant managed it by spoon-feeding Quinn Cook, zipping spot-on passes to Klay Thompson, finding Damian Jones in the right spot, and finding Jonas Jerebko and Jordan Bell for layups.
With Curry and Green out, Durant led the team in scoring and steals while also seizing the role of point forward.
And then, in the postgame interview session, he responded as good leaders do. He deflected the credit.
“Guys made shots tonight,” Durant said. “It was more so the shots that they made than my passes. There were a couple that were low, a couple that were tough ones but my teammates did a great job of finishing.”
Though there is at least modicum of truth to that, Durant also made sure he and his teammates recovered from the previous game, a 23-point loss to the Bucks. With the Warriors trailing most of the game, he got caught up in trying to do too much, forcing too many passes. He wound up committing six turnovers.
He committed two on Saturday.
Durant is committed to the Warriors this season. He plans to opt out of his contract in July and become a free agent, his next destination undetermined. He may come back on a massive multiyear contract to chase a few more championships. Or he may bolt for a place where the challenge is greater to satisfy his own curiosity while also silencing the few remaining skeptics.
He may want to go to a place where he is the undisputed leader of a team.
But every time Curry goes out it’s an opportunity for Durant to expand his role, to do a bit more of what he ordinarily does. Last regular season, the Warriors were 16-10 when Durant was in the lineup without Curry, but they were 5-1 under those circumstances in the playoffs.
What does it mean? It means Durant can adapt, that he has enough depth to his game -- or his “tool box,” as he calls it -- to fill most any need the Warriors have.
The Warriors face the Clippers on Monday, return home for the Hawks on Tuesday before playing three games in four nights -- Houston, Dallas and San Antonio -- in Texas. Going 5-0 is unrealistic and 4-1 is optimistic. Anything better than 3-2 would be graciously accepted.
Assuming Curry misses the next five games, Durant’s performance will be pivotal. The spotlight on him is brighter than it was a week ago. As his two NBA Finals MVP awards indicate, he is built for the challenge.