The Norman Transcript

National Sports

January 21, 2014

Durant filling Westbrook’s void with an MVP-caliber season

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant is putting up points like never before, quite an accomplishment for a three-time NBA scoring champion.

The 6-foot-9 forward couldn’t have picked a better time to raise his level of play for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In 13 games since All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook was sidelined after surgery on his right knee, Durant has averaged 35.8 points, posted three of the five highest-scoring games of his career, scored at least 30 in seven straight and pushed his league-leading scoring average to 30.6 points per game.

Durant scored a career-high 54 points in a 127-121 win over Golden State last Friday, a performance that brought “MVP!” chants from the crowd and questions about the award afterward.

“It’s premature,” Durant said. “It’s way too early in the season. I try not to think about that type of stuff. Of course, as a player, you’d love to win an MVP award, but I can’t take my focus off the team.”

The seventh-year player has done it all with startling efficiency. Without Westbrook, Durant has shot 51 percent from the field and 87 percent from the free-throw line while averaging 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

“I’m being more comfortable trying to do different things,” he said. “Whether it’s scoring, whether it’s rebounding, being a facilitator — I’m just going out there and really just having fun, to be honest.”

The most important set of numbers to Durant and Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks is the team’s 8-5 record without Westbrook, a respectable mark given the opportunity Western Conference challengers San Antonio and Portland had to pull away from the Thunder in the standings.

Westbrook is set to return after the All-Star break, and Durant’s dynamic play has kept the Thunder in position to compete for the best record in the Western Conference.

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