On Sunday, the Warriors regained some confidence with a 112-105 victory against the Knicks. Still, Kerr said his team was “surviving” without Durant, even as Golden State improved its league-best record to 51-11.
“It’s a long season,” Stephen Curry said after Sunday’s win. “Nothing is going to be perfect about your journey. Everybody is stepping up, giving maximum effort. We’ll find our flow like we always do.”
The Warriors are also wading into one of their toughest stretches of the season. Kerr referred to the league’s “infinite wisdom” in assembling his team’s coming schedule: a trip to the Hawks in Atlanta (Monday), a brief stop at home to play the Boston Celtics (Wednesday) and then back-to-back road games against the Minnesota Timberwolves (Friday) and the San Antonio Spurs (Saturday).
To be clear, Kerr did not sound excited about the grind ahead.
“It still seems bizarre,” Kerr said, adding: “You can’t do anything about it. So you complain about it a little bit. Get it off your chest.”
The Warriors were not expecting anyone to feel sorry for them. Over the weekend, the Cavaliers’ LeBron James was asked about Durant’s injury. James expressed some sympathy — “You hate to see it from anybody,” he said — before discussing his own team’s woes. J. R. Smith, the Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard, has not played since December because of a fractured right thumb. And Kevin Love, their starting power forward, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in mid-February.
James’s list did not stop at Cleveland’s troubles. He noted that Kyle Lowry had just had wrist surgery, perhaps imperiling the Toronto Raptors’ hopes in the playoffs, and that the Milwaukee Bucks’ Jabari Parker and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid had recently sustained season-ending injuries.
“And so on and so on,” James said.
His comments came off as a well-researched way of saying that the Warriors are not unique. Injuries are inevitable, and teams must unearth solutions. Against the Knicks, for example, Kerr slid the veteran forward Matt Barnes — signed after Durant’s injury — into the starting lineup as a stopgap to defend Carmelo Anthony.
“With Kevin out, it takes away a lot of our versatility,” Kerr said. “It really does change the makeup of the roster.”
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, expect Smith to return in a little more than a week. (Without him, Cleveland still managed to set an N.B.A. regular-season record with 25 3-pointers in a win against the Hawks on Friday.) Love, who was averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds at the time of his injury, could be back in about four weeks.
The Cavaliers, who sit atop the Eastern Conference at 42-19, have not just been waiting around, though, having bolstered their roster in recent days with the additions of Deron Williams, a veteran point guard, and Andrew Bogut, a defense-minded center who could make his debut for the Cavaliers against the Miami Heat on Monday.
Bogut, remember, was the Warriors’ most dependable rim protector in recent seasons, but Golden State shipped him to the Dallas Mavericks last summer to clear room for Durant. Recently released after being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, Bogut has found a new home — and a new title contender — in Cleveland.
For Coach Tyronn Lue, the Cavaliers’ late-season experiment in team-building creates some challenges in terms of figuring out his rotations, not that he minds. He thought back to when he was an assistant coach during the 2015 N.B.A. finals, and the Cavaliers were so bereft of healthy bodies that they went with a seven-man rotation. Despite James’s doing superhuman things throughout the series, the Cavaliers were no match for the Warriors, who won the championship that season.
As for incorporating the team’s new players, Lue said: “It’s going to be a process. But it’s a great process to have, and we have great players. Now, we have a roster with 12 guys that should be playing.”
Nobody would be surprised to see the Warriors and the Cavaliers back in the finals. But as one team copes with a high-profile absence and the other brings new players into the fold, the past few days have revealed the different routes they are taking.
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