Gameday: Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City return Part 2

kd-andre-us.jpg
USATSI

Gameday: Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City return Part 2

Programming note: Warriors-Thunder coverage begins on NBC Sports Bay Area at 4 p.m. with Pregame Live and is streaming live right here.

The Warriors will have Kevin Durant back Wednesday when they conclude a four-game road trip with a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area begins at 4 p.m., with tipoff scheduled for 5:05.

The Warriors (13-4) recovered from a loss at Boston last Thursday to sweep a back-to-back set at Philadelphia and Brooklyn over the weekend. Durant missed the game against the Nets but returned to practice Tuesday in New York and was upgraded to probable Wednesday morning in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder (7-9) underwent a drastic makeover last summer, adding perennial All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, and are having a tough time adjusting to the reshaped roster.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 5.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry vs. Russell Westbrook. Even with the new acquisitions in OKC, Westbrook remains the engine behind this team. He still takes the most shots (despite a 39.4 FG percentage) and he leads in rebounds and assists. The key to beating the OKC last season was keeping him in check. The same applies so far this season. Expect Curry and Thompson to be tag-team partners on defense.

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: F Kevin Durant (L ankle sprain) was listed as probable, but will play, Steve Kerr announced. C Damian Jones is on assignment with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

Thunder: No injuries listed.

LAST 10

Warriors 9-1, Thunder 4-6.

GAME OFFICIALS

Monty McCutchen, Karl Lane and Kevin Scott.

SERIES HISTORY

The Warriors swept all four games last season and have won the last seven regular-season meetings. They have won the last three in Oklahoma City. The teams met in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, with the Warriors prevailing in seven games.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

WATCH THE GIVEAWAYS: The Warriors commit an average of 16.8 turnovers per game, worse than all but two teams. That is an area the Thunder are capable of exploiting. OKC is third in defensive rating and, moreover, leads the NBA in steals and deflections while being tied for the lead in loose balls recovered. Above all, the Thunder are tops in the league in forcing turnovers (17.6 per game) and creating points off them at 20.9 per game.

KD vs. PG: For a number of seasons, George in Indiana was to the Eastern Conference what Durant was to the West in OKC. Each can play either forward position, each handles the ball well, each plays both ends and each was his team’s biggest star. They’re in different places now, but the pride levels won’t change. Each will want to reign over the other. This matchup will be fun to watch.

BURYING THE HABIT: The Warriors have continued their dangerous tendency to either fall behind and be forced to generate a comeback or build a lead only to give most of it, if not all of it, back their opponent. Will OKC and its high-profile roster, as well as Durant’s longtime connection to the franchise, be enough for the Warriors to remain focused for the duration? In their favor: the Thunder are 0-8 in games decided by eight or fewer points.

Playing in OKC is no longer a big deal for Durant: 'Just a regular game'

durant-adams-westbrook-ap.jpg
AP

Playing in OKC is no longer a big deal for Durant: 'Just a regular game'

Kevin Durant in his first season with the Warriors faced three benchmark games, two of which were against the Cavaliers and, specifically, LeBron James. The third was his return to Oklahoma City, where Durant created his NBA legend.

With all eyes on him, Durant aced all three exams. He was individually better than LeBron, twice, and when he arrived in Oklahoma City last February, with thousands of emotionally wounded fans targeting him for ridicule, he ravaged his former team.

Durant totaled a team-high 34 points (12-of-21 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep, 7-of-7 from the line), nine rebounds and three assists in a 130-114 rout.

So there will be no such dramatic backdrop Wednesday when Durant takes the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and it is anticipated his sprained left ankle will have healed sufficiently enough to allow him to play. Regardless of whether he plays, hHs return this time simply will not generate the tremendous local turbulence it did last season.

“It was a pretty fun moment to be a part of,” Durant told reporters at practice Tuesday. “You always respect the players on the court. And the people that have stuff to say about what’s going on on the court, they really don’t matter.

“So I just tried to go out there and think about that. Just realize that the players on the court are the most important and I know if I don’t focus and lock in, I won’t play to the best of my ability. I tried to block out all the nonsense and the BS and just go out there and play.”

There should be considerably less BS and nonsense this time around, for this is a more evolved Durant and this is not the OKC team he left behind, shattered in a dozen little pieces scattered around a new solo act that was Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook now has two fellow All-Stars at his side. OKC general manager Sam Presti navigated offseason deals to acquire both Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. There is a sense that the reloaded Thunder can make some playoff noise, and that matters in the wake of a steep drop last postseason.

Having spent most of a day interviewing locals in advance of the Warriors-Thunder game last season, it was apparent those folks were heartbroken by KD’s departure but perhaps more crestfallen about what little was left of their beloved team.

Durant, who remains connected to some of his personal causes in OKC, seems to recognize that. It’s enough to assuage any unease he may have felt for the fans that once adored him.

Asked Tuesday if there was any lingering sentiment about returning to the place where he spent eight seasons, Durant barely hesitated.

“No, it’s just a regular game for me now,” he said. “I learned how to tune out the crowd. I learned how to tune out the b------t and just play. Just keep it at basketball and I’ll be all right.”

It has been 16 months since Durant woke up on the morning of July 4 and announced his decision to sign with the Warriors. Durant has adapted to the Bay Area. He drives the local streets, rides BART every so often and has his favorite spots. He has his hands all over the high-tech industry that drives so much of the energy here.

Durant has moved deeply into the next phase of his career and has his eyes on his post-career options. OKC was home for most of his NBA life, but he now lives elsewhere.

Kevin Durant is in a good place, in most every way, and he likes it.

“I’ve been in the league for this long and been in every situation as a basketball player: losing games, winning games, overtime games, winning a championship, losing a championship, MVP, coming in second in the MVP,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been through everything in the league as an individual player. All those experiences have given me knowledge and given me insight on the game and what it’s about.

“It’s pretty simple when you think about it. You work, you work, you work. You gain experience, you gain knowledge and when it’s time to give it to somebody else you do it. When it’s time to apply it to your game, you just apply it when you play. “

When KD steps on the floor Wednesday and sees George and Anthony behind Westbrook, he can’t help but feel the difference. He has moved on and so have the Thunder.

There is reason, good reason, to believe the man when he says going back this time is just another game.

A Warriors fantasy 13-man team from the past

jackson-baron-monta.jpg
AP

A Warriors fantasy 13-man team from the past

Stephen Curry is a two time MVP. Kevin Durant is a one-time MVP and four-time scoring champ. Draymond Green is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Klay Thompson, owner of the game’s most picturesque jumper, once scored 60 points in 29 minutes.

The Warriors not only have reached the playoffs in five consecutive seasons for the first time since moving to California in 1962 but also own the single-season wins record and have won two championships over the last three seasons.

All of which explains why fans, athletes and coaches following the NBA tend to shower them with praise. They respect the coaching staff, are impressed with the front office and envy the roster.

Longtime fans know this is a completely new feeling. They recall so many past Warriors teams with sardonic fondness because, well, the bad old days in the Bay were a local joke.

As the team’s play-by-play man since 1995, Tim Roye remembers those days, and we discussed them on this week’s Warriors Insider Podcast. Specifically, I asked Roye to name his personal 13-man roster generated from Warriors between his arrival in ’95 and the drafting of Stephen Curry in 2009.

Roye’s draft picks, along with many of his other observations, are available on the podcast. Mine, which were not given on the podcast, are available here.

BACKCOURT/WINGS

In alphabetical order: Gilbert Arenas, Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Jason Richardson and Latrell Sprewell.

Arenas, taken in the second round of the 2001 draft, quickly became a local sensation. He was here for only two seasons and, despite the pleas of local fans, left for big money as a free agent. At his best, his scoring skill was unsurpassed.

Davis, stolen in a 2005 trade with Charlotte, gave the Warriors a much-needed shot of credibility the minute he walked through the door. Following a lot of bad Warriors deals, BD was the best player trade acquisition since Bernard King in 1980.

Ellis, selected sfrom a Mississippi high school in the second round of the 2005 draft, came to California as a shy teenager and eventually blossomed into electricity in sneakers. He was a wonderful scorer with crazy quicks and a deadly midrange J.

Hardaway, drafted out of UTEP in the first round, 14th overall in 1989, was the original crossover king, except he referred to it as the UTEP two-step. Difficult to contain and utterly fearless, he is a Hall of Famer in waiting.

Mullin, drafted out of St. John’s in the first round, seventh overall in 1985, Mullin was a fabulous shooter and a deft passer who became a five-time All-Star as a Warrior. His Hall of Fame ticket was punched in 2011.

Richardson, drafted from Michigan State in the first round, fifth overall in 2001, quickly became the team’s most exciting player. That he won the dunk contest as a rookie, and again the next season, provided a rare thrill for local fans.

Sprewell, drafted 24th overall out of Alabama in 1992, was popular until he jumped coach P.J. Carlesimo and was suspended and shipped out of town in 1997. Over a 19-year stretch ending in 2013, he was the team’s only All-Star. He made it three times.

FRONTCOURT

In alphabetical order: Andris Biedrins, Antawn Jamison, Stephen Jackson, Troy Murphy, Joe Smith.

Selected in the first round, 11th overall, in 2004, Biedrins was only 18 when he came to America. He had good hands, rebounded well and was developing into a solid center before he fell victim to confidence issues and the trappings of the good life.

Jamison, selected in a bizarre draft-day deal in 1998, was the best player on some wretched teams. A good rebounder and scorer -- he once had back-to-back 50-point games -- the power forward became an All-Star after he left the Warriors in 2003.

Jackson was picked up in a January 2007 trade with Indiana and it didn’t take long to see his value at both ends. The small forward who could play big makes this team for one primary reason: He stole Dirk Nowitzki’s soul in the 2007 playoffs.

Murphy was the second of two first-round picks in 2001, 14th overall. He wasn’t particularly athletic but he was an effective rebounder and a good shooter. He’d be a stretch-big, somewhere between Ryan Anderson and Mo Speights.

Smith was the team’s most recent No. 1 overall pick, in 1995. A natural power forward, he was named to the All-Rookie first team and was even better the next season. He faded in his third season, was traded and never reached full potential.

SIXTH MAN

Jamal Crawford. Easy call. A Warriors for only 54 games in 2008-09, that was plenty to see the three-time Sixth Man of the Year could deliver instant offense like few others.

Is it a great team? No. But it’s a playoff team. We needed 13 seasons of history, which feels like cheating until you consider the franchise went more than 10 years, from November 1994 to March 2005, without anyone honored so much as Player of the Week.