Game of the Night – Utah at Golden State, (NBC-Bay Area, 10:35 ET)
For the first time since Feb. 28, when Kevin Durant hobbled off the court at Washington’s Verizon Center just 1:33 in, the Warriors will have their Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry on the floor together.
Incorporating all four All-Stars will have to wait until the regular-season finale on Wednesday against the Lakers since Klay Thompson is expected to be given Monday night off.
Durant left the court in D.C. to audible gasps and visual angst when center Zaza Pachulia fell into his knee. There was fear he’d be done for the rest of the way, ending this season’s top story line. It’s come out last week on Bill Simmons’ podcast that Durant initially did get the diagnosis that he was done for six months, having fractured his left tibia. He admitted to crying and losing it. Fortunately, a CT scan revealed a tibial bone bruise and Grade 2 MCL sprain. The difference in recovery time meant everything.
Durant was back in the lineup on Saturday night after practicing for the first time earlier in the week and dunked on the first play in a 123-101 win over New Orleans. He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but never shared any time on the court with Curry, who was resting a sore knee.
Curry averaged 27 points per game in Durant’s absence and rediscovered his dominant trigger-happy form, so Golden State’s goal over its final two games is to get everyone comfortable prior to Game 1 of this weekend’s first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
That begins tonight against Utah, one of only two teams truly still playing for something in the Western Conference since they enter the night tied with the L.A. Clippers at 49-31. The teams are locked into squaring off in the 4-5 series, but it remains to be determined where the proceedings will begin. The Jazz are currently the No. 5 seed by virtue of a 1-3 head-to-head record against the Clips, so they’ll need help in order to avoid a trip into Staples for Game 1.
The Jazz will also be playing their third and final game of the regular season against Golden State, which would likely be their conference semifinal opponent provided they get through L.A. The teams met twice in December, where the Warriors won both games, including a 104-74 win in Oakland on Dec. 20.
Although it would certainly benefit Utah to open the playoffs in Salt Lake City, the deck is stacked against it in making it happen. Not only has Durant returned to fortify the Warriors, but San Antonio is up next. Worse yet, Gregg Popovich has already stated he expects everyone to play since he wants his team sharp entering the weekend.
The Clippers have a potentially tough game with the Rockets in town tonight, but close the season against lowly Sacramento. Jazz leading scorer Gordon Hayward scored a career-high 39 points against the Timberwolves at home on Friday, but was said to be battling a quad injury following Saturday’s 101-86 loss in Portland. He’s questionable. George Hill, who has been battling a groin ailment and been out of the lineup, is also likely a game-time decision at best.
Power forward Derrick Favors, wing Rodney Hood and point guard Raul Neto have already been ruled out, so the indications are that head coach Quin Snyder would rather have a healthy, rested team in place this weekend regardless of where the playoffs start as opposed to over-exerting his guys in pursuit of the No. 4 seed.
Golden State has won 13 of 14 games in this series, including seven straight. The Jazz haven’t won in Oakland since April 7, 2013. The under is 4-0-1 over the last five meetings.
Although Mike D’Antoni hasn’t committed to anything as of this writing, he did hint that he might limit the minutes of his starters on the second night of a back-to-back against the Clippers. We’ll see how that flies with James Harden in the midst of an MVP race against Russell Westbrook, who seemingly padded his lead by recording his NBA single-season record 42nd triple-double and drilling a game-winner to eliminate Denver in a 50-point effort on Sunday.
Harden went for a triple-double (35-11-15) of his own in a 135-128 win in Sacramento, but he may see a reduction in playing time at Staples. The L.A. native could be joined by Ryan Anderson, who just got back in the mix after dealing with ankle issues, and Lou Williams, who has already been told he’ll get the night off. Nene and Patrick Beverley each got banged up against the Kings and may be questionable. Eric Gordon got yesterday off and is expected to play against the Clippers.
LeBron James was beside himself with frustration after his Cavs blew a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon and didn’t comment on whether he would play in Miami on Monday. Make no mistake, he and Kyrie Irving would’ve definitely sat had Cleveland closed out the Hawks, but careless miscues were compounded by officiating errors, allowing Atlanta to rally and ultimately pick up a crucial victory for its aspirations of locking up the No. 5 seed.
Tristan Thompson is already questionable with the thumb issue that has kept him out the past few games, so the Cavs may punt on the second night of a back-to-back, which would give Boston a major edge since its final two games are home against Brooklyn and Milwaukee.
(Update: James and Irving will sit, as will Thompson. Love is listed as questionable.)
The Cavs hold the head-to-head tie-breaker if the teams end up tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and therefore still control their fate in that regard.
The Heat can’t say the same as they look to make the playoffs, entering the night even with Chicago, which holds a head-to-head tiebreaker and squandered a great chance to cut its magic number to 1 by losing at Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon. Miami hasn’t ruled out getting Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt and Josh McRoberts back this week, so it may have all hands on deck with the exception of injured second-year forward Justise Winslow.
The Bulls saw Dwyane Wade return to the lineup in the loss to the Nets. He played well in his return from what was thought to be a season-ending elbow injury, leaving with Chicago in the lead. Chicago’s backcourt may be back at full strength for tonight’s game against Orlando since Rajon Rondo is hoping to return from a wrist issue. The Magic may not have top scorer Evan Fournier (17.3), who has been in and out of the lineup of late due to a calf injury.
Point guard Kemba Walker is dealing with an ankle injury, while Charlotte teammate Marco Belinelli (finger) is also questionable for tonight’s visit to Milwaukee, which remains in the hunt for the East’s No. 5 seed. The Bucks will get back top shot-blocker John Henson from a thumb-related absence but haven’t cleared top rookie Malcolm Brogdon, who has been sidelined with a back injury. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been dealing with an illness, is expected to play.