Kevin Durant expects Kawhi Leonard to play in Game 3

San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (2) takes a breather as Houston Rockets' Trevor Ariza (1) walks down court during the second half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Kevin Durant is not a medical expert and doesn’t have insight into the San Antonio Spurs medical team’s process when it comes to determining if injured players are sufficiently ready, but the Golden State Warriors’ superstar is banking on a Kawhi Leonard return.

The former MVP expects the Spurs’ MVP candidate to re-emerge for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday night. If nothing else, Durant believes Leonard will suit up because of what’s at stake. Should the Spurs lose Saturday, NBA history indicates the Warriors will be headed to their third straight NBA Finals.

And if Leonard doesn’t play, the title favorites have a much better chance of overpowering the Spurs as they have during the bulk of the past six quarters. Leonard leaving in the third stanza of Game 1 has defined this series thus far.

This stance would surely meet with the ever-competitive Leonard’s approval, but it’s not a lock the Spurs throw their franchise player out there just because it’s a big spot. In all likelihood, they are going to lose this series. And the 25-year-old Leonard’s best years are probably ahead of him. The Spurs also have a history of taking long-term factors into consideration. Gregg Popovich admitted recently Tim Duncan could have played during the 2000 playoffs with a knee injury, but the team held him out for precautions.

Golden State’s status as a runaway favorite to win the West may play a role in Popovich’s decision. That said, if Leonard — listed as questionable after being deemed doubtful in advance of Game 2 — has improved enough, the Spurs’ surprising Game 1 dominance while their star was on the floor could induce the coach to play him.

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