OKLAHOMA CITY – Something about the New Orleans Pelicans seems to make Kevin Durant ready to play some basketball. For the second time in a span of about two months, the small forward will return from injury against New Orleans, suiting up for Friday’s key Western Conference matchup.
The league’s reigning Most Valuable Player missed Oklahoma City’s first 17 regular season games, but made his 2014-15 debut at New Orleans on Dec. 2. After a December/January stretch in which he appeared in 12 consecutive games, Durant (sprained left toe) was sidelined for four of the past five Thunder contests, but will play tonight against the Pelicans.
“He had a couple good days of work, then he had a good shootaround today,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. “He felt very comfortable with all of the tests we put him through. We’re excited to have him. We’re looking forward to playing the game tonight with him.”
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook more than picked up the slack for Durant’s absence Wednesday, piling up 45 points in a 102-91 win over the Pelicans. Durant’s return gives Oklahoma City (25-24) arguably the best 1-2 offensive punch in the NBA.
“He poses so many issues for any team,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said. “Obviously he’s a big-time scoring threat. He doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to defend. His ability to make big shots in big moments, everyone has to deal with that.”
Other notes from pregame Friday:
- Oklahoma City guard Dion Waiters, who made a few big fourth-quarter plays Wednesday, moves back to the reserve unit due to Durant’s return.
- Williams, on the significance of tonight’s game for New Orleans (26-23): “We all know what’s on the line. Our guys have heard it, we’ve talked about it. The key is if you don’t want to be great, step aside and let somebody else be great. This is one of those opportunities where you have a chance to step out there, lay it on the line and see what you’re made of. We’re ready for the moment.”
- Eric Gordon on trying to slow down Westbrook: “A guy of his talent and caliber, when he’s hot, he’s going to make a lot of shots. We’re going to make adjustments. When he came off screens, he made too many wide-open jumpshots.”