It’s not really fair comparing Kevin Durant to Kobe Bryant or the Oklahoma City Thunder to whatever the Los Angeles Lakers have going on right now, but it’s impossible not to make this connection between a star, maybe the best player in the NBA, and an old man, coming off a rough injury, who is actually looking like he’s getting in the way of his teammates, playing worse than they did before his return.
But the story, as much as a media magnet that Bryant might be, was the Thunder. They’ve won five consecutive games and are now 11-0 at home. Kevin Durant scored 31 points on 10-of-13 from the field, adding 8 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s had only one game in his career in which he’s made at least 10 shots AND shot better than his 10 for 13 on Friday, a 14 for 18 performance in a win over the Miami Heat on January 16, 2010. Russell Westbrook, a sidekick no one in the NBA has the likes of except for LeBron James in Miami, had his usual annoying shooting night, but that didn’t stop him from reaching 19 points and coming quite close to a triple double with 8 rebounds and 12 assists.
The Thudner simply ran the Lakers off the court. Without Kobe Bryant the Lakers might have had a chance of keeping up in some way, but Bryant poses a problem at his current physical state. He slows down the game, the fast break options, even if he is a better passer and smarter player than anyone the team has to offer. He finished with 13 assists, taking only 6 shots in the 23 minutes he played in, but every possession goes through him, and on almost every defensive stand he can become a liability with the right play. He was forced to play as the point guard for the team, although it’s not that different from the usual, as his dominance on the ball doesn’t change no matter the definition of his position.
The Thunder, winning 122-97, had one of their most efficient offensive games of the season thanks to the no-defense the Lakers had to offer, and their inability to run with them. The Thunder scored 118.3 points per 100 possessions against the Lakers, en route to a season-high 122 points. It is the Thunder’s third-highest offensive efficiency rating this season.
We have a pretty good team. That’s been the case for a while now. One of the things that I tell the guys, every season has its own identity. We started the season knowing that we wanted to … just continue to build trust in each other and just focus on each other and not worry about anything else but trying to make your teammates look good. It’s early, but we’ve done a great job with that.
So the Thunder look like a team good enough to win the West while running over non-playoff problems like the Lakers. But what of L.A. ? Has Kobe Bryant made things worse? There are enough problems with the whole Pau Gasol situation. There isn’t anyone standing up for him now, demanding he isn’t traded. Adding Bryant to the mix at the worst possible timing just means the predictions of an awful season might start coming true a bit later than expected.