- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Wizards spent the better part of two years preparing to make a run at Kevin Durant. They made sure they had the necessary cap space to sign him when he became a free agent last July, and they even hired former Thunder coach Scott Brooks shortly after Oklahoma City fired him following the 2015 season.

All this to try to convince Durant to return to his hometown and play for the Washington Wizards. Naturally, it hurt when Durant not only chose to go to Golden State over Washington, but didn’t even grant the Wizards a meeting.

Tuesday night marked Durant’s first game in Washington since joining the Warriors, but also his first game against Brooks, his former coach in Oklahoma City.

His return to Washington had been circled on the calendar months in advance. Fans had waited a long time to see how Durant would be received after refusing to join his hometown team last offseason.

It did not last long. Durant was forced to leave the game with 10:26 remaining in the first quarter after Warriors center Zaza Pachulia fell backward onto Durant’s left leg. The Warriors announced that Durant had hyperextended his left knee and would need an MRI.

The Warriors struggled without Durant early, falling behind by as many as 19 points in the first half. They mounted a second half comeback before eventually losing 112-108.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr did not have an update on Durant’s status immediately following the game.

“We’ll know more [Wednesday],” Kerr said. “I mean, he went out, they said hyperextended knee when he went out and he’s getting tested. I think he’s taking an MRI or something so we’ll know more [Wednesday].”

The basketball world is naturally worried about Durant’s status moving forward, but Kerr reminded everyone not to worry so much just yet.

“We’ll see, we’ll see what they say [Wednesday],” Kerr said. “We’re walking off the floor, haven’t even had the chance to take a deep breath and now I’m talking to you guys so we’ll see what happens.”

The mood in the Warriors locker room was noticeably down following Tuesday night’s loss. That had as much to do with the result as it did with Durant’s injury.

“We played a back-to-back and fought all we could [Tuesday], so obviously it is a little exhausting,” guard Stephen Curry said. “It is not going to be a very happy locker room at all. Obviously we are worried about KD [Kevin Durant], want to make sure he is all right, and you hate losing. So, a mixture of everything.”

While losing Durant for any length of time would be a major blow for Golden State, the players understand that having him healthy for the stretch run is crucial.

“We just hope he’s all right,” guard Klay Thompson said. “If he has to take some time off we’re fine with it. We just want him to be healthy down the stretch.”

Before his injury, no one knew quite what to expect Tuesday night, not even Durant.

“I didn’t expect there to be anything,” Durant said pregame. “The way [the media] have been talking about it, it feels like we’re back in Oklahoma City.”

While everyone around him talked up his return to Washington, Durant was treating this game just like any other.

“I just go out there and play to be honest,” Durant said. “Early on my first few years in the league I put too much pressure on myself because I wanted to play well at home. If I approach it like a normal game, then mentally it will be the same game.”

Cameras lined up hours before tip-off just to catch a glimpse of Durant as he walked down the hall entering the arena. He spent a good portion of pregame media availability organizing tickets for family and friends in the locker room. Warrior fans screamed his name as he took the floor for pregame warmups, and they all but jumped over the railing holding out jerseys and basketballs hoping for an autograph.

Durant was greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos when his name was announced during pregame introductions, the cheers presumably coming from the large contingent of Warrior fans in attendance.

Despite playing for a different team this time around, Tuesday night was akin to the last time Durant was in Washington in November 2015. He played just 17 minutes in that game before leaving the game with a strained hamstring.

Durant missed the next six games following that hamstring injury. Tuesday night’s injury turned another return to Washington into a lost night for the Warriors’ superstar, the Verizon Center becoming a hostile environment instead of the loving home thought about last summer.

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