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Warriors to open road trip facing new challenger led by old foe

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The Warriors will face Kyrie Irving on Thursday for the first time since he became a member of the Boston Celtics. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
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OAKLAND — When the Golden State Warriors step on the floor at the TD Garden on Thursday night, the reigning champs will get their first up-close look at the team, which, to this point, has been the premier power in the Eastern Conference.

The Boston Celtics, who entered Tuesday as winners of 12 in a row, are poised to become the new challenger in the East.

“It sure looks like Boston is a team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching,” head coach Steve Kerr said after practice on Tuesday.

They’re piloted by an old foe in Kyrie Irving — the erstwhile LeBron James protege.

“Kyrie is amazing,” Kerr said. “So, that looks like a team that’s going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come — whether their time is now or in the future — that’s to be determined. But they sure look like they want it to be right now.”

Irving will be donning a mask for the reunion with the Warriors after he was drilled with an errant elbow on Friday, leading to a facial fracture.

Kerr offered a simple explanation when asked what’s changed between Cleveland Kyrie and the new Boston version.

“I just think it’s his team,” Kerr said. “I think with Cleveland he was such a dominant force, but it was always going to be LeBron’s team. It just looks like Kyrie knows it’s his group and he’s thriving with that group of players around him.”

Kerr has no issue with Irving forcing his way out of Cleveland, where he’d been a longtime rival of the Warriors and the author of the 3-pointer that cost the Warriors the 2016 title.

“It just seemed like the next stage in his development,” Kerr said. “He knew what he was doing when he decided to leave.

“Nobody knows better than the player himself what he’s capable of, what he wants, where he’s heading. And so I admire Kyrie.”

‘I’m really excited for the trip’
While the road swing begins with a stop in Boston, it concludes with a visit to Chesapeake Energy Arena, the home of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I’m really excited for this trip,” Kerr said. “Boston will be electric — the way they’re playing, with that crowd. Obviously, Oklahoma City will be emotional still.”

In between, the Warriors will travel to a couple of basketball “hotbeds,” as Kerr put it, facing the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets in a back-to-back beginning Saturday night.

Good to go
After missing Monday night’s rout of the Orlando Magic, Stephen Curry (right thigh contusion) is in line to return against the Celtics. Curry took part in what was a light Tuesday morning practice.

“He’s probable for Thursday,” Kerr said. “Unless he has a setback in the next couple of days, he’ll play.”

‘An amazing group’
Last Friday, Curry and Kevin Durant spent the evening in the gym — Kaiser Permanente Arena, the home of the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

“Two of the best players in the world on their night off go to Santa Cruz to support our guys,” Kerr said. “Think about what that does for our culture, for our organization.”

“We have an amazing group of guys.”

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