This one won’t be easy, not by a long stretch.
And speaking of the words “long” and “stretch” … say hello to Mr. Kevin Durant.
Durant, a lanky, athletic, impossible-to-cover small forward, will lead the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Utah Jazz tonight at EnergySolutions Arena. The Thunder (39-12) own the Western Conference’s second-best record behind San Antonio (41-12) and have won their last four games, each by a score of at least by 21 points.
“I like the way we’re playing right now,” Durant said.
“I like our defensive intensity,” he added. “I like that we’re all on the same page on both ends of the floor. Nobody cares who scores the points or who gets the rebounds or who gets the assists. It’s really all about ‘team’ for us.”
Now riding a five-game win streak, OKC is allowing, on average, just 88.5 points per game during the streak.
For the season, the Thunder are averaging 106.4 points per game, the best in the NBA.
“Our defense has really been the catalyst for how we’ve played,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re just locked in.”
The Jazz, meanwhile, have lost two in a row and three of their last five.
Utah will again play without point guard Mo Williams (thumb surgery) and swingman Gordon Hayward (shoulder sprain).
Williams has missed straight games. Hayward, who went through a partial practice on Monday, has missed eight in a row.
Handling the Thunder is hard enough with a full roster, much less being out two key pieces.
Durant, 6-foot-9 with a sweet shooting touch and quickness to drive to the basket, averages 28.9 points per game, second best in the NBA behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.0).
In addition, OKC also has guard Russell Westbrook (22.5 ppg, 8.1 assists) and forward Serge Ibaka (13.7 ppg, 2.9 blocked shots).
Jazz small forward Marvin Williams will start the game on Durant.
“He’s averaging 28, 29 a game,” Williams said. “At some point tonight he’s going to get 29. Your job (in guarding Durant) is to make it as difficult as you can. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand times, guys like LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant), Durant and Carmelo, you’re not going to stop those guys from scoring. You job is just to make it as tough as possible.”
But with two games left before the five-day All-Star break, the Jazz say they want to finish strong.
“We’re desperate,” forward Paul Millsap said. “Pretty desperate.”