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Just like they did in the 2016 offseason, the Warriors are about to welcome a star to a team that had won plenty without him. This time, the Warriors are not making a free-agency pitch to Kevin Durant during their visit to the Hamptons. Instead, the Warriors are expected to welcome Durant back after missing the past five playoff games because of a strained right calf.

When will that be? Nothing is official yet. The Warriors plan to reevaluate Durant and DeMarcus Cousins in hopes both could be cleared for "live action." Both Durant and Cousins have some flexibility on when they will increase their on-court work. That is because the Warriors do not play in the NBA Finals against either the Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks until May 30.

What will Durant's return look like then? First, an obvious disclaimer. Anyone who thinks the Warriors are "better" without Durant is either an idiot, trolling for clicks or both. Durant has led the NBA in postseason scoring (34.2 points). He has won two Finals MVPs. He has given the Warriors an extra offensive wrinkle after squandering a 3-1 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals.

Nonetheless, the Warriors will experience some obvious benefits with Durant's presumed return as well as face some possible hiccups. The Warriors have a good 'problem," obviously. Why wouldn't the Warriors want Durant back along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Just as they had done in their past two NBA championship runs, however, the Warriors face varying challenges to ensure all of their stars benefit from the reunion.

Below is the breakdown on how KD will make life easier, as well as the adjustments the Warriors will have to make to accommodate his return.

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Five ways Durant will help the Warriors

1. Durant will score a lot of points

Duh. Warriors coach Steve Kerr has called Durant "the best player in the league" for a reason. He has averaged an NBA postseason best 34.1 points while going 51.3% from the field and 41.6% from 3. For those looking into regular-season results offering a preview of the NBA Finals? When the Warriors faced the Toronto Raptors in two regular-season games, Durant averaged 40.5 points on a 58.5% clip on two matchups against Toronto.

That falls in line with what happened during Durant's post-season run. It all started when Kerr called on Durant to play more aggressively after committing more turnovers (nine) than shot attempts (eight) in the Warriors' Game 2 loss to the Clippers. After that, Durant had one 50-point performance (Game 6 against the Clippers), two 40-point games (Game 5 vs. Clippers, Game 3 vs. Clippers) and four 30-point games (Games 3 and 4 vs. Clippers, Games 1 and 4 against Houston).

So what does this development mean? The Warriors can beat their opponents offensively in different ways. They can adhere to their ball-movement oriented offense so that Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and role players receive open shots. Should the Warriors encounter double teams, they can rely on Durant for some instant offense. He will either beat his opponents, in the post, along the elbows at the basket or along the baseline. He will use his height and footwork to create mismatches. And there is little most opponents can do to stop it.

2. The Warriors' other All-Stars might get a night off

Without Durant's output, the Warriors would not have won against the Clippers in Games 4 and 6 as well as against Houston in Game 1. After all, Curry shot inefficiently against the Clippers in Game 4 (3 of 14) as well against Houston in Game 1 (5 of 12) Meanwhile, Thompson shot poorly against the Clippers in Game 6 (3 of 10) and against Houston in Game 1 (5 of 13). So if the Warriors have any off shooting nights, the Warriors could absorb those struggles because of Durant's productivity and efficiency.

Durant's outburst against Toronto partly stemmed from his star teammates' injuries or struggles. Green sat out both matchups because of a right toe injury. Curry also scored only 10 points while shooting 3 of 12 from the field in a loss to the Raptors on Dec. 12. That happened after sitting out in Toronto entirely because of a sore left groin on Nov. 29.

Granted, the Warriors do not want to just rely on Durant. When Toronto or Milwaukee scheme the Warriors, though, they can have added comfort that Curry and Thompson can dish the ball to Durant should they keep receiving double teams. Same with Durant. If either team loads up on him, Durant can punish his defender by looking for an open Curry or Thompson. That came in handy when Durant had only 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting against Milwaukee on Dec. 7. No matter. Curry (20 points), Thompson (20) and Andre Iguodala (15) all made it up for it with a combined 11-of-24 mark from deep.

3. Iguodala does not have to play as many minutes

The Warriors sat the 35-year-old Iguodala in Game 4 against Portland after nursing tightness in his left calf. Iguodala presumably will heal that within the next week. Once the Finals start, however, the Warriors can be more conservative with Iguodala's workload.

Consider that Iguodala averaged 29 minutes in the Warriors' first 10 playoff games. Once Durant became sidelined, Iguodala averaged 33.3 minutes for the next three playoff games. He then only played 18 minutes in Game 3 against Portland before the Warriors decided to sit him with 7:50 left in the third quarter.

The Warriors had always planned to play Iguodala more postseason minutes than in the regular season (22). Hence, why the Warriors managed Iguodala with conservative playing time and sitting him for 11 games for various minor ailments. Nonetheless, Durant's presence will likely make Kerr feel more comfortable shaving some of Iguodala's post-season minutes.

4. The Warriors' bench does not have as much pressure

No longer will Kerr need to play an 11-man playoff rotation. No longer will Kerr need to field three different starting lineups. No longer will Kerr rely as heavily as he did on Alfonzo McKinnie, Jordan Bell, Andrew Bogut, Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko and even Damian Jones.

Granted, the Kerr will always give those guys a chance. Even with his star studded talent, Kerr believes in his "Strength in Numbers" philosophy. The Warriors' success will no longer hinge, though, on the bench producing. The Warriors' bench all produced heavily in the team's closeout Game 6 win in Houston (33) as well as against Portland in Game 1 (37), Game 2 (33), Game 3 (33) and Game 4 (28).

Before that stretch, the Warriors' bench produced very little against Houston in Game 1 (10 points), Game 2 (14), Game 3 (seven), Game 4 (11) and Game 5 (11). Granted, Kerr then fielded only an eight-man rotation. Before Durant's injury, though, the Warriors did not feel as much pressure to compensate for his absence with various reserves.

5. Durant will bolster the Warriors' defense

The Warriors fared just fine defensively without Durant. Consider the Warriors' defensive field-goal percentage (36.1 percent) and 3-point defense (25 percent) against Portland in Game 1. Or their fourth-quarter defensive field-goal percentage in the fourth quarter in Game 2 (34.8 percent) and in the second half of Game 3 (30.8). Or that the Warriors showed improvement in their defensive rating (107.2) and defensive rebounds (35.4) in the past five games without Durant than they did with their defensive rating (112.3) and defensive rebounds (33.4) before his injury.

Plenty of that, though, stemmed from the Warriors' relatively reduced effort when Durant was on the floor. Without him, Green had better defensive ratings against Portland in Game 1 (98.6), Game 2 (107.2), Game 3 (101.3) and Game 4 (108.9) than he did against the Clippers in Game 2 (124.4) and Game 5 (132.1) as well as against Houston in Game 2 (111.5) and Game 3 (118). With Durant, the Warriors will have an added shot blocker that can cover up any failed rotations. He could also split some of the defensive duties on Toronto's Kawhi Leonard or Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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Five hiccups the Warriors might have to overcome with Durant's presence

1. Will Durant show any rustiness?

When the Warriors reevaluate Durant on Thursday, he will have gone 15 days since playing in an NBA game. Once the Finals begin on May 30, Durant will not have played in a game for the past 22 days. How soon will it take for Durant to shed off any rust?

The answer to that question partly hinges on how much practice time Durant has between Thursday and May 30. Will Durant receive clearance to complete contact drills? Or will he merely just begin spot shooting and conditioning drills? Will the Warriors consider it important for Durant to scrimmage with and against his star teammates? Or to preserve those teammates' bodies, will Durant simply play against a handful of young players and assistant coaches? Durant has maintained such a prolific 12-year NBA career partly because of his training habits. So Durant will not skip steps with this process, presumably.

Consider, though, how Durant fared when he missed two playoff games against Portland in the first round of the 2017 NBA playoffs because of a left calf strain over a three-day span. He scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in Game 4 against Portland before having 17 points on only 7-of-17 shooting against Utah in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. By Game 2, Durant returned to normal with 25 points on 6-of-13 clip. By Game 3, Durant elevated his game to another level with 38 points while shooting 15 of 26 overall. Durant might not have such luxury to play his way into a rhythm considering his longer absence against a presumably tougher Finals opponent.

2. Will the Warriors' effort wane?

Without having Durant to bail them out of bad possessions, the Warriors anticipated an attitude change. As Thompson said following Durant's injury in Game 5 against Houston, "we know we're going to have to be near perfect."

In fairness to the Warriors, they did not exactly treat the Rockets in the first four playoff games as forgettable regular-season contests in January. For all the criticism Durant received for his Game 2 play against the Clippers, however, the Warriors also squandered a 31-point lead because of their emerging apathy. Then when Durant took over, the Warriors did not need to worry as much about their effort. Without Durant, the Warriors no longer had that luxury.

The Warriors won the rebounding battle against Portland in Game 2 (50-37), Game 3 (49-41) and Game 4 (56-38). The Warriors seemingly fought for every loose ball. They communicated more on rotations. Can the Warriors maintain the same focus when Durant returns? There is no reason the Warriors shouldn't considering they are playing in the NBA Finals.

3. What pace will the Warriors play?

Without Durant's unstoppable shot anywhere on the court, the Warriors figured they could not just manufacture offense by relying on their other All-Stars to make shots. The Warriors also played at a faster tempo. When the Warriors grabbed a rebound, they often ran the break. Even after Houston or Portland made a basket, the Warriors did the same thing in hopes to exploit anyone trudging back on defense.

Nonetheless, the Warriors had a lower pace in the postseason without Durant (97.6) than they did with Durant (99.83), a statistic that tracks the number of possessions averaged per game. Those numbers also reflect other factors that could have affected the number of possessions, including turnovers, rebounds and steals. Still, the Warriors showed more effort in playing in transition without Durant. The Warriors often slow it down with Durant to take advantage of isolation plays. Yet, the Warriors still get out and run off of rebounds or defensive stops. How well the Warriors vary their tempo will largely dictate how well they run their offense.

4. Can the Warriors still stick to good ball movement?

Without Durant, the Warriors largely relied on "Strength in Numbers." In other words, the Warriors based their offense more on ball movement to create open shots for Curry and Thompson. When those opportunities failed, the Warriors looked for Green, Iguodala or any open role player.

In the past five playoff games without Durant, the Warriors averaged 318.8 passes per contest. With Durant in the lineup, the Warriors averaged 298.9 passes per game. Yet, the Warriors logged almost the same amount of assists per game with Durant (28.5) as they did without him (28.4).

So what should this mean moving forward? Well, the Warriors still preach ball movement when Durant is in the lineup. Hence, the high assist numbers. This validates Durant's gripe he occasionally makes, however, that more ball movement does not always equate to a more productive offense. In Durant's case, it is often more efficient to allow him to take a shot even through a double team than dish the ball to an open role player. The Warriors have figured out this dynamic well enough to win two NBA titles. The Warriors have slipups occasionally, though, in figuring out the best plan of attack.

5. How will the Warriors' bench respond?

As noted before, the Warriors will not have as much pressure to play as well as they did without Durant. Amid that reality, Cousins' possible return and a tougher matchup, Kerr will likely shorten his rotation. Can the Warriors' reserves still take advantage of reduced opportunities?

Pencil in Kevon Looney for remaining dependable on defense and hustle plays. Will McKinnie be just as consistent on the boards? Will Bell grow from his breakout series performance against Portland?

None of those players' value will hinge on box-score contributions. Instead, it will reflect Kerr's trust level in leaning on any of his reserves to buy minutes, or seconds, of rest for his core players.

Visit The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

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