DENVER — The Golden State Warriors got a double dose of bad news Sunday.
They learned All-Star forward David Lee had torn his right hip flexor, as feared, ending his season.
So, they’ll have to continue their playoff series against Denver without the NBA’s leader in double-doubles.
Making that task all the more difficult will be the return of the Nuggets’ top rebounder and energizer, Kenneth Faried, from an injured ankle.
Faried sat out the opener Saturday, when the Nuggets edged Golden State 97-95 despite getting outrebounded 55-45.
“Whoa, I didn’t know that,” Faried said Sunday after declaring he’d be back in action Tuesday night in Game 2. “That can’t be happening. It’s playoff basketball and that’s one of the biggest keys. … Every possession counts and they’re that much more valuable in the playoffs. You need to secure rebounds and lock the ball down and make sure we can start our break and have that fun and flair that the Nuggets play.”
The Nuggets haven’t been winning as handily as they did before Faried went down with a sprained left ankle on April 14. He wanted to play Saturday but by keeping him on the bench, he’ll get another 72 hours of rest and rehab.
“He’s our hustle guy, he’s our rebounder,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Last night I think we missed him. You’ve got two teams that like to run and when you take your best runner off the court it’s going to affect the flow of the game. And his offensive rebounding is probably the reason why we’re No. 1 in offensive rebounding, point blank. He’s the guy that always goes and is always there.”
The matchup of Lee and Faried was billed as a headliner in this first-round series pitting two high-octane teams that like to get up and down the floor.
“It would have been exciting,” Faried said.
Now, it’ll be Carl Landry’s task to deal with the man known as the “Manimal,” something Warriors guard Jarrett Jack said he’s looking forward to.
“I think he’ll be able to meet force for force and give us a chance down there,” Jack said.
Lee said he didn’t have to wait for the MRI on Sunday to know he’d torn the right hip flexor, an injury that’s seen much more often on the football field than the hardwood.
He said he knew it right when he hit the floor after banging into JaVale McGee on a drive in the fourth quarter. He gathered himself enough to shoot two free throws but struggled to run back downcourt and needed help getting to the bench.
“I knew last night when I did it,” Lee said Sunday. “I felt it pop. So I knew we were going to get the results we did this morning. I went to run back on defense and had absolutely no sensation in my leg. It wasn’t even painful as much as it was just (numb).”
Lee said doctors told him he likely won’t need surgery, just a couple of months of rest and rehab. He said he hopes to be 100 percent by mid-summer and come back stronger than ever in camp.
The injury leaves the Warriors without a key producer down low as Lee led the NBA in double-doubles with 56 this season. He averaged 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
“We can’t replace him, and we know that,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “And that’s the thing we have to know right away. He’s an All-Star power forward who’s had an incredible year. But we have some guys on our bench that can do some things to cover up his absence. But we cannot replace David Lee.”
Landry stands to get the bulk of Lee’s minutes with Draymond Green, Andris Biedrins and Festus Ezeli and maybe even Richard Jefferson also in the mix. Jackson might also compensate for Lee’s loss with a guard-heavy lineup at times.
“I think we all are” ready to step in and step up, Landry said. “It’s a team game, being without our All-Star, our captain, our leader, it’s definitely going to hurt a little bit but we’ve got guys on this team that can step up and make plays.”
When the Warriors got off the bus after a short trip from their team hotel to the Pepsi Center on Saturday, Lee told Jackson, “This is the longest bus ride I’ve had.”
Stumped, Jackson asked what exactly he meant.
“He says, “It’s been an eight-year bus trip to get to this place,’” Jackson recounted.
Lee had parlayed that excitement into 10 points and 14 rebounds in his first playoff game in eight NBA seasons when it all came crashing down.
“I’ve waited for eight years for this and to have it come to such an abrupt end with something that’s out of my control is frustrating,” Lee said. “But at the end of the day, our team has still got a good chance I think in this series and I’m going to put all my effort toward that.”
Lee pledged he’ll be the same leader for his teammates even though he’ll be on the bench and not the court.
“It’s easy to kind of sit here and worry about yourself, but I’ve been a leader all year long and I’m going to continue to be one and guys need to see me be positive right now and I’m going to do my best to be that guy,” he said.
Being a cheerleader or a coach, though, will be hard for him.
“I know it’s really going to set in on Tuesday when we go out there and I’m not ready to play,” Lee said.
He insisted, however, “this series is definitely not over and I look forward to watching our team rally.”
They nearly pulled out a win without him Saturday, before Andre Miller slipped past Green for the game-winning layup with just over a second left.
Of some solace to the Warriors was the outstanding play of oft-injured center Andrew Bogut, who returned from a bone bruise on his surgically repaired left ankle and had nine points, 14 boards, three assists, four blocks and a steal.
“That’s who he is and that’s what we’ve been waiting for,” said Jackson, noting the big question is this: can his health hold up? “When he plays that way and when his body feels comfortable enough for him to play that way, we’re a different team.”
Bogut didn’t play in any of the Warriors’ four regular seasons against Denver, so his big game certainly caught the Nuggets off guard.
“We’ll probably pay a little more attention to him next game,” Ty Lawson said.