Warriors

Why Kevin Durant thought Warriors' loss to Mavericks 'not odd at all'

Why Kevin Durant thought Warriors' loss to Mavericks 'not odd at all'

Saturday was a night to forget for the Warriors.

The 126-91 loss to the lottery-bound Dallas Mavericks was the Warriors' worst at Oracle Arena under coach Steve Kerr. Golden State, without Steph Curry and chasing the Western Conference's top seed, weren't even close to the West's second-worst team.

If that sounds out of the ordinary for an NBA Finals contender, Kevin Durant doesn't think so.

"It's not odd at all," Durant told reporters in Oakland after the loss on Saturday (via ESPN). "I think everybody in that locker room has gotten their asses beat at home before. I know this experience is different, how much winning we've done the last few years. But we're still in the NBA. Guys have been a part of terrible games, along with the great games, as well. The good thing about it, we play tomorrow night too."

The Warriors were short-handed, and lopsided losses do happen to good -- even great -- teams. But wasn't Golden State supposed to have already turned this corner?

They weren't blown out on March 10, but the Warriors lost to the Zion Williamson-contending Phoenix Suns on that date. Golden State wasn't missing any regulars as was the case on Saturday, and the team said all the right things about that being a necessary wake-up call headed into a successful road trip.

"The first two games were important to us, especially after that Phoenix loss," Durant said on March 19. "To come out and beat two teams on the road, it was probably the best two-game stretch of the season for us, and we needed that, we needed to feel good about ourselves, going on the plane, going to practice the next day."

[RELATED: Quinn Cook, Austin Rivers agree on worst NBA road city]

The grind and ensuing malaise of an 82-game season real, especially for a team that has played as many games as Golden State has in the last five years. Plus, the Warriors battled injuries and struggled mightly down the stretch of the regular season last year ... and still won their third championship in four seasons.

In other words, a March loss to the Mavericks might not mean all that much if the Warriors lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy once again. But if they don't, Durant might look back on it as a defeat that was odd, after all.

NBA rumors: Sense among Warriors is Kevin Durant leaves in free agency

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USATSI

NBA rumors: Sense among Warriors is Kevin Durant leaves in free agency

Will he? Won't he? Will we continue dissecting it regardless? 

The Warriors reportedly believe the answer to one of those questions is yes. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne said on "The Jump" on Wednesday that she thinks "there's a sense that he's going to leave Golden State."

"I think you feel that within the Warriors organization," Shelburne said (H/T Bleacher Report). "That's why this whole run feels like they're all just trying to savor it, right? They're trying to savor what this is and just how special it is. But I don't know. Kevin Durant is an emotional guy -- and I say that with respect ... he's passionate."

Shelburne's comments came a day after Rich Kleiman, Durant's agent and business partner, said that Durant "really doesn't know and I really don't know" how his potential free agency will play out. Earlier this month, Shelburne's ESPN colleague Adrian Wojnarowski said the Warriors "are bracing for possibly seismic change" this summer given Durant and Klay Thompson's impending free agency. 

[RELATED: Why Raptors are better NBA Finals matchup for Dubs]

Durant will almost certainly opt out of his current contract this summer. The New York Times' Marc Stein wrote earlier Wednesday "that the Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as an equally dangerous threat to the [New York] Knicks to sign Durant away from Golden State." The Knicks have long been floated as Durant's preferred destination, and we're still over a month away from the official start of the free-agency moratorium on June 30. 

In other words, the answer to the third question at the start of this blog is also yes. 

Why Raptors are better matchup for Warriors in NBA Finals than Bucks

Why Raptors are better matchup for Warriors in NBA Finals than Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kawhi Leonard?

Khris Middleton, or Pascal Siakam?

Brook Lopez, or Marc Gasol?

Eric Bledsoe, or Kyle Lowry?

The Warriors know they will face either the Bucks or Raptors for the 2019 NBA Championship, but as for which team presents the tougher matchup, it's a toss-up.

Just look at the current state of the Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee looked absolutely dominant, winning the first two games at home before the script flipped entirely in Games 3 and 4 in Toronto.

The result? A series that is now tied at two games apiece. The Bucks and Raptors appear quite evenly matched, and it's anyone's guess as to who will ultimately prevail out of the East.

In making quick work of the Blazers in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors left themselves plenty of time to rest up before the Finals begin. They'll have more than a week in between games, offering adequate time to ponder questions such as: which opponent would be a better matchup for Golden State?

While the margin between the two teams is razor-thin, there's reason to believe the Warriors would match up slightly better with the Raptors than they would the Bucks.

There were only two teams in the league that ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating during the regular season: The Bucks and Raptors. Milwaukee ranked marginally better than Toronto in both categories, and they've maintained their close correlation into the playoffs, where the Bucks and Raptors rank first and second, respectively, in defensive rating.

The Bucks, however, are averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions during postseason play -- fourth among all playoff teams -- compared to 107.5 for the Raptors, which ranks ninth.

Still, those playoff numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, as they've been accrued against different opponents. The Bucks finished with the best record in the league during the regular season, so they had a somewhat easier path to the Eastern Conference finals than the Raptors did.

Milwaukee swept Detroit in the first round, and then after a brief hiccup in Game 1 against the Celtics, finished off Boston in five games. Meanwhile, Toronto dropped their very first game of the playoffs to the Magic before eliminating Orlando in five games, and then only narrowly advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after perhaps the most dramatic game-winning shot in NBA playoff history in Game 7 against Philadelphia.

As such, the Raptors played three more games than the Bucks on their way to the conference finals, and are guaranteed to have played at least two more playoff games than Golden State should they meet in the Finals.

So, the Warriors would have a slightly larger collective "load" advantage against the Raptors than they would against the Bucks, but again, it's minimal. That said, the fact that Golden State will have nine days of rest before the Finals begin -- while the Eastern Conference representative could have as few as two, -- could exacerbate the Dubs' advantage.

[RELATED: Raptors tying series with Bucks furthers Dubs' advantage]

Both teams excel on both ends of the court. Both are led by legitimate MVP candidates, two of the very best talents the game has to offer. Both finished with better regular-season records than the Warriors, so both would have homecourt advantage over Golden State.

So why the Raptors?

As we know, rotations shorten in the playoffs and typically more so the deeper in postseason play. The Warriors had the luxury of extending their rotation against the inferior Blazers, but that won't be the same case against either the Bucks or Raptors.
And the Bucks' shortened rotation appears slightly more threatening to Golden State than the Raptors'.

Milwaukee likely would trot out a nine-man main rotation for the Finals, whereas it might be difficult for Toronto to find that many playable guys in a series against Golden State. Of those nine Bucks players, more than half of them shot better than 35 percent from 3-point range. The Raptors have only four such players on their entire roster.

Two of the Bucks players that fell short of that 35-percent plateau are Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, who -- aside from being extremely proficient interior scorers -- were both named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team on Wednesday. Leonard was the Raptors' sole representative on either of the all-defensive teams, joining Golden State's Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the Second Team.

It's not a big difference, but at this point in the postseason, that makes plenty of sense. The best teams are supposed to advance, and clearly, they have. Whichever team comes out of the East will certainly pose more problems for Golden State than the Blazers did. The Raptors might be a slightly better matchup for the Warriors, but if you think the Dubs are going to waltz to their third consecutive league title, you're kidding yourself.