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Kevin Durant is the real VIP in return to Warriors’ lineup

His mom, Wanda, and rapper Drake are among those who watched the forward play 31 minutes

The victory party stopped momentarily as all eyes turned to Kevin Durant as he walked into Oracle Arena’s private BMW Lounge late on April 8. As a smiling Durant walked into a VIP section to mingle with perhaps the world’s most popular rapper, Drake, and fellow NBA All-Star teammates Stephen Curry and Draymond Green waiting on him, the room broke into applause in appreciation of his successful return for the Golden State Warriors.

Durant reciprocated that love.

“It’s good to know that people care,” Durant told The Undefeated.

Durant had been sidelined since Feb. 28 after he suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise on the road against his hometown Washington Wizards. The first-year Warriors forward was an NBA MVP candidate at the time of his injury after averaging 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.6 blocks in 33.6 minutes per game. Durant and the Warriors initially feared that he suffered a season-ending injury.

But after missing 19 games, Durant returned April 8 against the New Orleans Pelicans sans their NBA All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Durant said the Warriors’ athletic training staff played a big role in his return, as well as “locking in” on his diet and rehabilitation. The eight-time NBA All-Star registered 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in a surprising 31 minutes. The 2014 NBA MVP also accounted for the game’s first bucket by emphatically slamming down a baseline reverse dunk in the 123-101 triumph.

“I loved the fact that he played 31 minutes. I wasn’t sure how many minutes we’d play him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “His conditioning was great. I thought as the game went on he got into a good rhythm.

“Just to feel it again, just to get back and have to play defense and fight through screens and rotate, all that stuff. … You could see he felt better with the shot at the start of the second half. It started to come.”

Kevin Durant (No. 35) of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the New Orleans Pelicans on April 8 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Durant got an expected rousing applause from Warriors fans when he was announced during pregame introductions. What wasn’t expected was a group of Durant supporters sitting courtside that included his agent Rich Kleiman, Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Hall of Famer Jerry West and a travel-weary Drake. Durant’s personal manager, Charlie Bell, and some of the forward’s other close friends were also there.

“That was a pretty good row that came to support,” Durant said. “The underrated thing is the love and support that people show. We really appreciate it. I know I did.”

Also sitting near the floor was Durant’s mother, Wanda, who made a strong effort to be there.

Durant called his mother “The Real MVP” during his speech after winning the award three years ago, and he could have made the same statement Saturday. Wanda Durant had a speaking engagement in Wichita, Kansas, in the morning on April 8 for Rise Up For Youth Inc. Durant told her it wasn’t necessary for her to attend his return, but she took a connecting flight to the Bay Area and made it to the game early in the first quarter. She said she took six flights in a day and a half before arriving at her son’s return game and declined his offer of a private jet.

“She is always there supporting me,” Durant said. “She called me the other day and said she wanted to come in. I told her it wasn’t that big of a deal. She thought it was. Having her support was key. It was good to have that support from family, especially my mom. I didn’t know where she came from, but she’s flying back tonight. Her coming for a couple hours to see a game was very special.”

Durant said early on in his injury his mom was “panicking,” and she wanted to come visit him when he returned to the Bay Area. Durant told her to relax and that the injury wasn’t as bad as previous ones. After his return game, Durant got two ice packs wrapped on his knees before making a point to briefly exit the locker room. They shared some warm words and had a long embrace in what Wanda Durant described as a “mother-son moment.”

“How happy am I? I’m elated,” Wanda Durant told The Undefeated. “We were home, of course, when the injury happened, and I hadn’t even got to my seat when my oldest son let me know he got injured, and I heard it might be season-ending. My heart kind of sunk. I heard a few hours later after it was evaluated that it was going to be a few weeks, so I was happy about that.

“I wanted him to know I’m supporting him no matter what takes place. I had to speak today in Wichita. I had to divert my plans to make sure I was here to show my support.”

Durant’s good friend Drake was at the game on the heels of releasing his new album, More Life, and completing a long European road tour. One of Drake’s handlers said the rapper couldn’t comment on Durant’s return since he is an ambassador for the Toronto Raptors and needed permission to talk about an opposing player. Even so, the Toronto native stood up and clapped for Durant when he arrived in the BMW Lounge.

Kevin Durant (No. 35) of the Golden State Warriors goes up to shoot over Jordan Crawford (No. 4) of the New Orleans Pelicans in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game at Oracle Arena on April 8 in Oakland, California.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

“For Drake to come in during the 80th game of the season … DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis weren’t playing, to come and support our team and support me, that shows the type of friend he is. That was special. I appreciate that,” Durant said.

The Warriors have been hot of late, securing the NBA’s best record and top seed in the playoffs last week before Durant returned. Fellow NBA All-Stars Curry, Green and Klay Thompson, who is expected to take off Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, have been getting a breather before the playoffs begin next weekend. Meanwhile, Durant will be working to get the rust off in the final two regular-season games.

The Warriors won 13 straight games before Durant’s return after initial struggles that followed his departure. Durant said he learned a few things while sidelined.

“Just the flow of the game, what coach wants, what he says on the bench during the games. The flow of the game is a little different when you are on the sidelines,” Durant said. “The only thing I have to worry about is conditioning. I think we play off of each other well. Early on in the season it was about me learning the system more than anything, more so than playing off of Klay and Steph. …

“No matter who it is, on any given night somebody can lead us. That’s the great thing about it, we aren’t predictable.”

As Durant was the last player to come off the floor, he jogged to the Warriors’ locker room. Such a small thing as jogging down the hallway was a great sight to behold for the title-contending Warriors, his worried friends, mom and fans.

“I felt good putting on my jersey and running out with the team, going through the layup line. It felt normal again,” Durant said.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.