(SportsNetwork.com) - If you uttered the words "talk about stating the
obvious" with the headline of this piece, then my job is done.
In a headline with more evidence than prosecutor Marcia Clark during the
infamous O.J. Simpson trial, giving Durant his well-deserved recognition is
nothing new in regards to spearheading the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Durant still dominated media outlets with sidekick Russell Westbrook spry and
healthy, and now he's just toying with opponents on his own. But make no
mistake, Durant isn't the one to gloat and puts his teammates first.
Wednesday night, he dropped 36 points on 12-of-22 field-goal shooting in a
111-105 victory over the Thunder's biggest hurdle in the Western Conference,
the San Antonio Spurs. Durant knocked down two big 3-pointers with less than
two minutes to go and matched OKC's largest lead of the game at 108-98. The
clutch shooting from the lanky star didn't faze Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
"Kevin did his thing down the stretch, it was pretty remarkable," he said.
Durant, in his usual soft-spoken self, directed credit elsewhere.
"The bigs did a great job of setting screens and I felt coming off that screen
I was wide open," Durant said of his 3-pointer with about a minute to go. "I
just need a little bit of space to get that thing off."
Message to the rest of the NBA: Don't give Durant any space.
That's nearly impossible because it's an Oklahoma City axiom to get him the
ball consistently. Durant, who drew some jealousy from Miami Heat star LeBron
James for the amount of shots he takes (19.8 per game), said Thunder head
coach Scott Brooks is drawing up good Xs and Os and the players around him
are creating for others as well as himself.
But to look at what Durant has done the past few weeks is impressive. In his
last 11 contests, the NBA's leading scorer at a career-best 31 points per
game, is posting an average of 38.1 ppg and shooting 52 percent from the
field. He hasn't scored less than 20 points since Dec. 21 at San Antonio.
He has reached the 36-point mark five times during the past nine contests,
scoring 30 or more points over that span (33.6 ppg), and has helped the
Thunder to five straight wins against formidable foes from the West. The
Thunder have disposed of Houston, Golden State, Sacramento, Portland and San
Antonio on the win streak and are in the midst of playing six of seven games
on the road.
Durant, who was criticized for not coming through in last season's playoff
series loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, is a popular subject in MVP talks and
has yet to earn the honor in his career. Perhaps he will covet the award
during a playoff run this spring and trump two other high-profile candidates
for the achievement, James and Indiana's Paul George.
James and George have a strong supporting cast around them; Durant wouldn't be
getting by so easily without his. Muscle-bound power forward Serge Ibaka does
the dirty work inside and new starting guard Reggie Jackson has filled in
admirably off the bench as Westbrook recovers from another knee surgery.
Jackson has posted an average of 15.4 points in his last 15 games -- all
starts -- and has scored 10 or more points in each of his last six contests.
Jackson took what he could of Durant's spotlight against the Spurs with 27
points to go along with eight assists and two steals. Brooks has been
impressed by Jackson taking advantage of extended playing time.
"We want him to play aggressive basketball on both ends of the floor," Brooks
said of Jackson. "He did a good job of finding spots on the floor where he can
finish around the rim and he also did a good job of finding guys who were
In relation to Jackson, Brooks continued about his superstar Durant.
"He scores because he's a smart player," Brooks said. "He scores because he
has the ability to put the ball on the floor and score on different spots on
the floor. He also scores because we have good players around him. If you
double team, we have guys who can make you pay."
But all the scoring focus falls back on Durant, who recently led all Western
Conference players with 1,396,294 votes for the NBA All-Star Game. It marks his
fifth career selection and fourth as a starter. Durant led all scorers with 30
points on 13-of-24 shooting in last year's All-Star Game in Houston and is
averaging 28.8 ppg in his four previous All-Star appearances.
Because of Durant, Oklahoma City is a half-game ahead of San Antonio for
conference supremacy and leads the Northwest Division by a game in front of
the Blazers. The Thunder still have to battle the likes of San Antonio,
Portland, Houston, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers to grab the No. 1
seed in the conference and are tied with Indiana for the most wins with 33.
OKC defeated the Pacers back in early December and the two powers won't
collide again until April 13 in Indy, and then possibly in the NBA Finals.
What the Thunder do have coming up is a showdown with James and the Heat on
Jan. 29. Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta precede that anticipated matchup in
Miami. The MVP award won't be handed out that night, but Durant will try to
maintain his current 31-point clip to represent the highest scoring average in
the NBA since Kobe Bryant averaged 31.6 ppg in 2006-07.
And that should easily put Durant ahead of James and George in MVP voting.
The Sports Network