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Kevin Durant eases back into the swing of things

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Are the Warriors better without Curry?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. — After a 19-game absence with a sprained right knee, Kevin Durant made his much anticipated return to the Golden State Warriors’ starting lineup on Saturday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Durant’s return injected some life into what would have been an otherwise meaningless game for both teams. The Pelicans rested a slew of players, most notably All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. And with the Western Conference’s top seed already locked up, Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr decided to give back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry the night off as well.

The Oracle faithful gave Durant a roaring ovation worthy of goosebumps during pre-game introductions, one that rivaled his first game in Oakland back in October. And the Slim Reaper wasted no time in giving the fans what they wanted.

Just over 30 seconds into the game, Durant took human walking-stick Alexis Ajinca off the dribble for a Kobe-esc 180 dunk. This served as the highlight of the night for Durant, who played 31 minutes in his first in game action since Feburary.

“Kevin wants to play 48 minutes every night so we have to tell him he’s not allowed to do that,” Steve Kerr said after the Warriors’ 123-101 victory on Saturday. “31 was about as high as I could have imagined going with him.”

Durant unsurprisingly had the line of the night with 16 points (6-for-15 FG, 0-for-4 3P), 10 rebounds and six assists.

While his jump-shot looked noticeably flat from distance, something that should be expected after a player misses 19-straight games. However the ten-year NBA vet understands that there is more to the game than just pouring in 20+ points a night.

“Obviously, I like to score the ball. I like to see the ball go through the net, but I just try to do the other things that get my scoring going,” said Durant after the game. “That’ll come around once I start playing defense, contesting shots, rebounding, getting out of the break.”

The Warriors will continue to ease Durant back into the rotation in the team’s final two games next week. However, it is uncertain if he will play with a full squad before the playoffs, as Steve Kerr is contemplating resting Klay Thompson on Monday against Utah.

Regardless, the Warriors just locked up the longest winning streak in the NBA this season at 14 games, 13 of which were won with one of the most dominant players in the game on the sidelines.

The playoffs cannot get here fast enough, and Klay Thompson agrees.

“Yes, it couldn’t get here any faster, but we just got to enjoy this time before we get there. We all can’t wait, we’ve been waiting for this the whole year. And we were lucky enough to lock-in the number one seed. So, we’re so excited. I’m sure the fans feel the same way.”