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Art Garcia

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is shooting more than 100 points lower than his career average (.352 to .459).
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Defenses taking the Thunder out of OKC and its scoring champ


Posted Nov 4 2010 3:39PM

DALLAS -- Are the few first pages of the book on Kevin Durant starting to be written? Four years into his career, are foes finally figuring out how to bottle up the god of Thunder?

Up to this point, such a notion seemed more myth than reality.

Durant is off to a dreadful start, by his and our lofty standards, four games into the season. Going into Thursday's visit to Portland (10 p.m. ET, TNT), the skinny assassin is shooting a career-worst 35 percent and owns nearly three times more turnovers (19) than assists (seven).

In Wednesday night's 15-point loss to the previously winless Clippers, Durant scored a season-low 16 on 6-of-24 shooting. He took an O-for on 10 shots beyond the arc.

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He took full blame for the loss afterwards.

"We just didn't show up. I didn't show up," Durant told reporters. "I'm the leader of this team. Everybody follows me, so if I don't show up, the team won't show up. That's why we lost."

Durant hasn't been much better in Oklahoma City's wins. Though he scored 30 in each of the two victories, he shot a sub-standard 9-of-24 both times. He followed that up with an 8-of-19 showing in Sunday's blowout loss to Utah.

What in the name of Thor's hammer is going on?

Noted defensive guru Tom Thibodeau is mostly at a loss when it comes to guarding Durant, but Chicago's new coach does have some ideas.

"You have to make Durant play in a crowd, challenge his shot," Thibodeau said.

Ron Adams, another respected defensive mind, knows Durant as well as anyone. The veteran assistant spent the last two years being awed by Durant in person in Oklahoma City before rejoining the Bulls this summer on Thibodeau's first NBA staff.

The reigning scoring champ is possibly the most unique challenge for opposing defenders in the league, Adams said. His breakdown of Durant: plays four positions well; cares about getting his teammates involved; takes on the responsibility to score; quick and repeatable release; range beyond the arc; student of the game.

"There's nobody else like him," Adams said.

The only marginal flaw that Adams finds is Durant's tendency to coast defensively at times. But he's even improving in that area, adding that KD is the Thunder's best natural rebounder.

Durant, 22, is averaging 26 points through four games, so this is not a serious slump. That woeful shooting percentage should rise considering he shot nearly 48 percent from the floor the last two years.

The University of Texas product and 2007 No. 2 pick won his first of what should be many scoring titles last season at 30.1 points per outing. He's not so much explosive as he is exasperating. Durant keeps coming and coming. He led the league with 47 games of at least 30 points.

Durant overcomes his slight 230-pound frame -- he swears he's bigger and stronger this season -- with a first step that's both quick and lengthy, and range that no one is his size bracket, other than Dirk Nowitzki, can match.

"You're never really going to stop a great player," Thibodeau said. "What you have to do is make him work for his points and try to contain all the others."

Conventional wisdom against the league's big-time scorers -- Kobe, LeBron, 'Melo, D-Wade -- is more can be better. Giving up 30 points isn't as hard to swallow if Durant is shooting 9-of-24 along the way.

"You'd like him to do it on volume shots," Thibodeau said. "He's great at the end of the clock. He can bail them out with his shot-making ability."

Asked if there's a secret when it comes to slowing him down, the man in question played coy. "I never really thought about that," Durant said recently. "I'll think about that tomorrow. I'll have a better answer in a couple of weeks."

At this point, he's probably keeping that scouting report to himself.

Equal-opportunity thief

Bulls point guard Derrick Rose refused to name his favorite playmaker. Chris Paul? Check. Deron Williams? Check. Steve Nash? Check. Rajon Rondo? Check. Chauncey Billups? Check.

Notice a pattern?

"I steal something from everybody," Rose said with laugh. "I watch all the guys, how they do everything and try to use it in my game. If it doesn't feel right or isn't giving me what I need, I get rid of it.

"Every one of those point guards, I watch their games. Every one of them is different. There are different age groups and you can learn from everybody in this league."

And each provides a distinctive set of challenges.

"You have to go out there and play," Rose said. "You have to play with a lot of confidence, especially at this position. And you have to have the will to win and to go out there and ball. There are a lot of players every single night that are coming at you."

Rose, in his third year, is already on the short list of elite hardwood quarterbacks. He started for USA Basketball at the World Championship this past summer and is a virtual shoo-in for the Olympic squad two years from now in London.

But if Rose is at home and can only choose one of his faves to watch, where does League Pass land?

"Chauncey," he said without hesitation of his USA Basketball teammate. "I want to take his composure. He really knows how to run a team. That's the biggest thing that I'm trying to learn. Right now that's the biggest thing I'm trying to learn. I'm a young player and I'm trying to learn that quick."

Strength of schedule

The Suns may be only 1-3, but things probably aren't quite as bad as they seem. Consider this: Phoenix is the only NBA team whose first four games came against teams that all won 50 games last season. (The Utah Jazz started with three straight before hosting Toronto.)

Phoenix has faced the Blazers, Jazz, Lakers and Spurs. That quartet averaged 53 regular-season wins during 2009-10. The only win Phoenix managed was against Utah.

"We just got to keep our heads up," Jason Richardson said. "We know this is not a sprint, it's a marathon, it's a long season. We still got 70-something games left. Nobody's got their head down. It's early in the season. We've got a long way to go and every game we get better."

The Suns are also the only team whose first four were against playoff teams. Utah and New Orleans each opened with three straight.

There is some good news for a team that started 14-3 last season. The last time Phoenix opened 1-3 (2006-07), it went on to win 61 games.

Starting 5

1. Cancer patient vs. cancerous? Yes, the latter is somewhat less offensive, but neither has any place on the court. Kevin Garnett is a trash-talking Hall of Famer, but he crossed the line with Charlie Villanueva. You just don't go there, KG.

2. Dougie or not, thought we were done with sideline choreography in Washington.

3. The Knicks avoid a loss to Orlando on Tuesday thanks to asbestos. Donnie Walsh immediately begins negotiating a multi-year contract with asbestos.

4. Paul Pierce becomes the third Celtic to hit 20,000 career points, joining John Havlicek and Larry Bird. Boston announces plans to retire Pierce's wheelchair at season's end.

5. As far as nicknames go, "Prime Minister" for Steve Nash really isn't working for me. Neither did that story.

Give-n-Go: Rudy Gay, Grizzlies

On staying in the playoff race deep into last season:
"Last year we didn't know what we were getting into, and we ended up playing well and making a run at the playoffs. This year we expect to do that. We expect to play hard and we'll be up there."

Signing that $80 million extension this offseason:
"It feels good not to have those things over my head anymore and I can just play basketball. For the most part, I tried to conduct myself as a professional last year."

Being consistent in the rugged Western Conference:
"Nothing is promised and we know that going in. We need every game because we know how tough it is."

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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