OKLAHOMA CITY —
“There are so many things that I love about K.D.,” Brooks said. “Just the fact that he is an amazing teammate and wants to win. He wants to help his teammates have success. He has a gift of scoring, but he also has a gift of playmaking and seeing that his teammates score.”
Durant will have one of his biggest stages yet when the Thunder host Portland on Tuesday night in a game between two of the league’s top teams.
Portland has defeated Oklahoma City in both meetings this season, but Durant averaged 35 points and 10.5 rebounds in the two games. Westbrook played in the first game, but not in the second.
As much as Durant wants to deflect praise, his numbers demand attention. Durant scored 23 of his 48 points in the fourth quarter against Minnesota on Jan. 4, a 115-111 win after the Thunder trailed by 10 heading into the final period. Two games later, he went for 48 again in a 112-101 loss at Utah.
Then, he had the 54-point outburst against Golden State.
This past Sunday, Sacramento Kings coach Michael Malone said during a pregame interview that Durant wouldn’t score 54 like he did against Golden State. Durant simply adjusted and dished out nine assists. He still scored 30 points, but he took just 15 shots.
Malone said Westbrook’s absence creates a “Catch-22.”
“Westbrook is one of the most explosive guards, if not, the most explosive guard in the NBA,” Malone said. “But no Russell Westbrook means that many more shots for Kevin Durant. We all see what he’s done lately. Any time he’s getting that many more shots, it’s not good for the opposing team.”
Warriors guard Stephen Curry said Durant can be slowed, but not stopped.
“If you force him into tough jump shots, you’ve just got to live with the result,” Curry said. “But early in the game, you’ve got to get a body into him, be a little bit more physical and not let him get so comfortable as to just walk into shots.”