OKLAHOMA CITY — For eight seasons, this was the place where they stood shoulder to shoulder on the court, sat elbow to elbow at post-game press conferences and always covered each other’s back.
Now, whether they like the 1-on-1 attention or not, it’s their very own version of Dodge City, where Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will square off on familiar turf.
When Durant makes his return to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday night (8:30 ET, ABC) for the first time as an opponent rather than teammate, the basketball world will be watching to see the reaction the former home favorite gets from OKC fans.
But Westbrook and the teammates left behind say they don’t have a preference.
“Nah, I mean it's kind of up to them,” Westbrook said. “It's up to them what they want to do. You know, obviously Kevin did a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here, so it's kind of up to them.
“It doesn't really matter to me one way or another. It's a basketball game. Gotta go out and compete.”
The fact that the Thunder point guard even acknowledged his running mate of eight NBA seasons was a marked difference from the first two games of 2016-17 between the Thunder and Warriors. When Westbrook showed up at Oakland’s Oracle on Nov. 3 wearing a photographer’s vest, it was seen as a subtle dig at Durant and his passion for photograph. Following their Jan. 18 rematch, when asked if he and Durant were on speaking terms, Westbrook said: “No.”
The online betting site BookMaker.EU also seems to have sensed a thaw. The betting line is -170 of Westbrook and Durant shaking hands or hugging after the game on live TV. It’s a +135 bet that they won’t.
The Warriors won those first two games 122-96 and 121-100 and Durant was brutally efficient, shooting 28-for-40 (70 percent) from the field, 12-for-18 (66.7) on 3s, averaged 39.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
The Thunder are coming off an impressive 118-109 win over the defending champion Cavaliers Thursday night in which Westbrook notched his 26th triple-double of the season. The OKC players have been doing their best not to look too far down the road to this game on the schedule.
“It’s always strange when you see a player coming into town and you’ve played with the guy a long time,” said reserve forward Nick Collison, the longest-tenured member of the franchise in his 13th NBA season. “We’ve done it a couple of times. But usually once the game starts it goes back to normal and you worry about the game.”
Collison said he doesn’t have an opinion on how the fans should receive Durant.
“The fans are paying for a ticket and they can do whatever they want,” he said. “I think everyone appreciates what Kevin did while he was here. We had a lot of good years, had a lot of success while he was here. It’s up to the fans. That’s the way sports is. That’s the way it goes. It will be interesting to see.
“We don’t talk much. He plays for another team. It’s hard to keep in touch. A lot of guys I played with, I don’t talk to much anymore. Still say hello when I see them.”
Collison got the news of Durant’s decision to bolt OKC for Golden State like everyone else, via an online post in The Players Tribune last July 4.
“I’d say (my reaction was) just disappointment,” Collison said. “We wanted to get our team back. We felt like we could win a championship. He’s a guy I played with a long time and, like I said, we had a lot success here. So definitely disappointment and life goes on.
“By the time we got to camp, we were really excited about this year and I think we’ve had a good year so far. It’s more about where we are in the season. I don’t think a lot of us put too much into this game until today.
“Guys are gonna make decisions on where they go in free agency. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the way it will always be. He chose to go there. So we got the team we got here and we’re ready to try to compete with our team.”
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