OKLAHOMA CITY -- The hoopla surrounding Kevin Durant and the Wizards in their second and final meeting of the season is non-existent, in stark contrast to what took place Nov. 10 when the Thunder visited D.C.
Perhaps the NBA's most lethal scorer, Durant quietly dropped in a game-high 28 points in Monday's 114-98 win. The Wizards would trim a mostly double-digit deficit to 67-61 in the third quarter, allow it to grow back to 11 and cut it to 74-67 until an 8-0 run started by Durant's three-point play. Russell Westbrook posted is second triple-double in as many meetings with Washington with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
"Westbrook and Durant, they said, 'Hey, we aren't going to be shown up,'" said Wizards assistant coach Don Newman, who is filling in for the first of two games for Randy Wittman while he's away on leave for a death in the family. "And they showed us."
What Durant, a D.C. native who has been with this franchise since he turned pro in 2007, led it to an NBA Finals, won a league MVP award and multiple scoring titles, does in the offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent is anyone's guess.
Despite what Oklahoma City has to offer outside of basketball compared to other bigger markets, the Thunder offer him a great chance to win even in the top-heavy Western Conference.
Westbrook's deal expires in 2017. The same is true for Serge Ibaka (19 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks). With the salary cap growing from $70 million to a projected $90 million starting with the 2016-17 season and climbing again to about $108 million in 2017-18 because of the new TV contracts and rights fees commanded by the league, what's the rush for Durant anyway?
He could opt to stay in Oklahoma City by signing a one-year extension and wait for the greater money under the bigger cap number for a max contract in 2017 which will start this cycle all over again. That would leave the Wizards a big hole to fill in free agency this summer and then the question for them becomes do they continue to wait, signing short-term deals again on their end to keep the cap space available, or move on.
Durant hasn't said one way or another where he'll go, if anywhere, but he's too big of a game-changer to just pass on. His first shot of this game was an airball from 25 feet. Then he made his next seven shots in a row.
The Wizards (21-25) couldn't stop Westbrook on post-ups of John Wall. They couldn't get any rebounds. And yet they still were in position to do what they did in Houston two nights ago when they raced from a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter to steal a 123-122 win from the Rockets.
The defensive issues they've continued to have returned, however, and they just couldn't stops.
"We got down early. They were offensive rebounding. We had no resistance defensively," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said. "They were scoring at will, especially in the first six minutes, eight minutes of the game. ... Overall it was not guarding, a broken record."
Thunder coach Billy Donovan expected a tougher game before it tipped off. And in a lot of ways it was compared to the 125-101 blowout they delivered at Verizon Center. The Wizards had a chance in the fourth quarter of this one.
"The one thing that stands out is they seem to be playing faster now than they were earlier in the year," Donovan said of the absence of Nene and Bradley Beal. "I don't think the game against them was a true assessment of who they are at that time because when you have two key players out like that that's very, very difficult."
Beal led the Wizards with 18 points off the bench and Nene wasn't very effective in 17 minutes (five points) on 2 of 6 shooting.
The Thunder were always a step quicker to a loose ball, a rebound or a defensive rotation. This team may have fallen short of an NBA championship but Chesapeake Energy Arena presents a championship atmosphere. If the core of this team remains in tact, prying away Durant will be a tough sell for any team.