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Who needs Steph Curry? Kevin Durant lifts Golden State Warriors

By
Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
Kevin Durant made up for the lack of Steph Curry in the Golden State Warriors lineup on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Photo via NBA.com
Kevin Durant made up for the lack of Steph Curry in the Golden State Warriors lineup on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Photo via NBA.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- With Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins all on the sidelines watching, Saturday's game between the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans had the feeling of an exhibition.

Which is probably exactly what Kevin Durant needed.

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Durant made a healthy -- and triumphant -- return to NBA game action, contributing 16 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and a team-high-tying six assists to the Warriors' 123-101 victory over the short-handed Pelicans.

Durant, who had missed 19 games after suffering a sprained left knee on Feb. 28, saw 31 minutes of action in Golden State's 14th consecutive win, the longest streak in the NBA this season.

"I just tried to make it as normal as possible," Durant reported afterward. "I thought I played good defense. Rebounded well. Just tried to make the right plays."

The Warriors (66-14), who had already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference, won despite the absence of Curry, who was sidelined by a bruised left knee.

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The Pelicans (33-47), meanwhile, went without star big men Cousins (right Achilles tendinitis) and Davis (sore left knee).

The visitors were further handcuffed by having to play the second night of a back-to-back that began with a loss Friday at Denver.

"I thought that we hung in, especially in the first half," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry observed. "You've got to make shots against them, and I don't think we shot the ball very well."

New Orleans hit 48.8 percent of its shots, but went just 5-for-21 on 3-pointers.

The Warriors threw Durant right into the fire, not only starting him but feeding him on their first possession. He didn't disappoint, making an immediate bee-line to the hoop for a reverse dunk.

"I wouldn't say I was nervous; I was excited," Durant insisted. "Getting a dunk on the first play of the game, no matter how long you've been out, that feels good."

Durant had only six points in the first half, during which the Pelicans, led by Alexis Ajinca and Quinn Cook, were surprisingly competitive. That unlikely duo combined for 24 points in the first 24 minutes, helping New Orleans stick within 54-46.

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But then the Warriors turned on the jets in the third quarter, riding 16-of-25 shooting and 10 points from Klay Thompson to a commanding 93-68 advantage.

Durant had six points in eight minutes in the quarter.

"I think he probably felt like we all did -- just a sigh of relief," observed Thompson, the Warriors' leading scorer with 20 points. "He had a great second half. Very efficient doing what he does. He looked fresh out there and healthy."

Durant went to the bench for good with 5:50 to go, with Golden State leading 112-80. He finished 6 of 15 from the field and 0 of 4 from 3-point range.

"I loved the fact that he played 31 minutes," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We were kind of basing (the minutes) on how tired he looked. His conditioning was great. It was a really good night for him, and for us."

Thompson, who connected on three 3-pointers, was one of seven Warriors in double figures. Shaun Livingston, starting in Curry's spot, equaled his second-highest scoring game of the season with 14 points.

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With Durant leading the way, the Warriors outrebounded the Pelicans 53-34.

"Rebounding is always an emphasis for us," Durant noted. "When we outrebound teams, we're pretty good."

Cook and fellow backup Jordan Crawford paced the Pelicans with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Jrue Holiday had a game-high 10 assists to go with 10 points.

"I thought we made those guys work," Quinn claimed. "They got hot in the third quarter like they usually do, and they got a good lead, but I thought we fought."

NOTES: The Warriors did suffer a bit of a setback in the game when SF Matt Barnes sprained his right ankle. He had X-rays (negative) before leaving the arena wearing a protective boot. ... Asked before the game about PG Stephen Curry (bruised left knee), Warriors coach Steve Kerr reported: "Steph is good. We anticipate him playing on Monday (against Utah)." ... Kerr said he is considering resting SG Klay Thompson against the Jazz. ... The Warriors completed a second straight season-series sweep over the Pelicans. They've beaten New Orleans seven straight overall and nine in a row at home. ... Pelicans PF Anthony Davis (sore left knee) is expected to return to action Tuesday night when New Orleans visits the Los Angeles Lakers. C DeMarcus Cousins (right Achilles tendinitis) remains questionable for the rest of the season.

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