After exploding on the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter, Kevin Durant had luxury of taking it easy for most of the game, including resting in the fourth quarter. Still, his relaxed mode is better than anything most of the league’s players do when they’re at their best, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder o a comfortable 117-96 win.
The victory keeps them on pace with the Spurs, still looking for the Western conference leaders to slip up so they can take over that top spot once more. Russell Westbrook got a rest as the Thunder played a first game in a back-to-back, with Westbrook under observation since he knee collision with Kyle Lowry.
Durant scored 27 points and added 8 assists, moving his streak to 35 games of 25 points or more, now only five games behind Michael Jordan’s 40 game-streak from the 1986-87 season. He took a little bit too many 3-pointers (only 1-of-7), but there’s no one in this franchise that’s going to tell Durant (or Westbrook for that matter) that he’s shooting too much or taking bad shots. This team has more assets than just him, but their chances first and foremost rely on his ability to score at will, and no one is going to disturb him trying to do that.
But Durant wasn’t alone in the scoring part. It was a great game for Caron Butler, the Thunder’s late season free agency addition. Butler scored 23 points, hinting that his struggling and adjusting days to the new team and system are gone. It was probably his best game since joining the Thunder in a season he began playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, and this former All-Star might eventually be the piece off the bench giving the Thunder a significant advantage over almost anyone they face in the postseason.
It’s also worth noting Reggie Jackson with a double double, scoring 16 points to go with his 11 assists. It was a career high for him in assists and although he doesn’t bring to the table the same things the Thunder get from a healthy and confident Russell Westbrook (if he actually has a no-confidence mode), but Jackson isn’t the guy thrown into the fray unexpectedly last season. He’s aware of his role, and better at it after growing accustomed to it through a lot of games in the starting lineup this season. If Westbrook will have his health limitations in the playoffs, the Thunder can be a lot more confident that Jackson provides more than just minimal support to Durant.
The Nuggets? They didn’t really get in the way. It was a good game for Ty Lawson with 25 points an 7 assists, but it was a poor shooting game for a team that was without J.J. Hickson and will be for the rest of the season, which really doesn’t make much of a difference, as their goal right now should be improving their chances of a high lottery pick.
And the Thunder? They’re still doing well despite the obstacles of injuries and limiting Westbrook. It might not be enough for the top spot in the West, but with Kevin Durant on his way to win his first MVP, a fully healthy Thunder setup will undoubtedly be the favorites to finish on top in June.