At the moment, there’s no NBA player playing better than Kevin Durant. His performance, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 114-108 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, turned into somewhat of a scoring duel with Kobe Bryant, which he won as well.
While Bryant had Dwight Howard on a good night to rely on, Kevin Durant, with 36 points, had Russell Westbrook on his best ability and behavior, finishing with 33 points. The Lakers and pretty much any team in the NBA can’t compete with the Thunder when those two are on that kind of a scoring streak.
The difference between Bryant and Durant is that when Kobe finishes with 35 points, the Lakers usually lose. It’s forced, and goes along with completely ignoring the rest of his teammates. The Oklahoma City Thunder have no intentions to pretend they’re not a team that’s built around the exceptional ability of Kevin Durant to outscore anyone in the league, while Russell Westbrook plays the perfect sidekick. When he actually does score and make the right decisions to complement Durant’s continued evolution into the best player in the NBA (not there yet), the Thunder are pretty close to impossible to beat.
While both teams are talking in terms of the Lakers being the veterans trying not to be toppled by the up and coming Thunder, this has been reversed two years ago, when the Thunder reached the Conference finals and the Lakers got swept by the Mavs in the semifinal. There’s no doubt who is the best team right now, even before the Lakers’ ambitious project took the wrong turn. The Oklahoma City Thunder had what it takes last season, but the Heat had more of it, and so did LeBron James. Any other team wouldn’t have a chance against OKC six months ago.
The Thunder have one weapon that all the Dwight Howard dominance and all the Kobe Bryant streaky scoring can’t keep up with. Their speed, their defense (when it’s working) and their transition game that finished off the Lakers last season in the playoffs. Once again, the Thunder used that style, scoring 18 points in transition during their 41-point second quarter to put the game beyond the reach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even with Howard making 5-7 of his free throws, finishing with 23 points and 18 rebounds, the Lakers can’t keep up with an effective fast break game. Just not enough fresh and young legs to keep up with the effort. The Thunder, at their best, run very quick sets of simple screens for Durant and Westbrook, who simply found it very hard to miss from a distance. They combined for 7-12 from beyond the arc. Westbrook was 8-14 from at least 15 feet, his most made shots from that distance in a game this season. Westbrook entered Friday shooting 32.9 percent from 15+ feet and 49.7 percent inside 15 feet
Kevin Durant was all friendly with Kobe Bryant while Metta World Peace made himself more enemies among Thunder players and fans. Contrasting emotions aside, the Lakers, 9-11 and 2-6 away from home, aren’t in the right direction. All the talk about getting used to a system seems to be just a cover up for Kobe Bryant taking over everything while Dwight Howard works with what’s left. Not the way to win a sixth NBA ring.
The Thunder are on the right track. Durant scored over 35 points for fourth time in the last nine games, as the Thunder won their 7th consecutive game. They have the best offense in the NBA, averaging 106.4 points per game. The shock of losing James Harden is over. They’re the best in the West once again.