OAKLAND — Kevin Durant needs something to lift his spirits. The support of his Warriors teammates has not been enough. Maybe a stellar game, against the right team, at this time, will put some bounce in his bearing.
What could be better than winning a home game against his former team?
Well, now, look at the schedule. The Oklahoma City Thunder is coming into Oracle Arena on Wednesday night to visit Durant and the Warriors.
This promises the observer’s trifecta: curiosity, animosity and apprehension.
If ever there was a game to gauge Durant’s level of dedication to a task, to put a sharper point on what has been intermittent focus, it is this one.
Durant surely knows what’s coming. Russell Westbrook, his old friend from their days as tight teammates, will be attacking with a vengeance, as he always does, and the Warriors won’t have their star point guard, Stephen Curry, available to counter.
The best counter, then, is Durant, who always enjoys winning but achieves slightly more satisfaction from beating Westbrook and the Thunder.
Durant has been slumping on offense and docile on defense, with a touch of gloomy overall. How will he respond to stimulus that comes with such a personal touch?
The decline of the Durant-Westbrook friendship began in the summer of 2016, when Durant contemplated leaving OKC and didn’t bother generating a dialogue with Westbrook, despite their years of shared triumphs and failures. They were close, until they were not. Their bond eroded, with Westbrook passive-aggressively expressing bitterness, perhaps to conceal his disappointment.
Durant didn’t much bother chiming in. He chose not to publicly play the feud game initiated by Westbrook and hyped by media. Durant’s response was to, along with his Warriors teammates, do whatever it took to hang a defeat on the Thunder.
He’s winning. The Warriors, since acquiring Durant, are 6-2 against OKC. Durant’s teammates have stated that his presence -– along with that of Westbrook on the other side -– provides much of the inspiration when facing the Thunder.
Just the same, Westbrook takes particular delight in beating his ex-teammate.
It’s not that they hate each other. They simply don’t enjoy each other’s company nearly as much as they once did. They don’t have each other, so they don’t need each other.
The Warriors are struggling mightier than they have at any time since Steve Kerr took over as coach in May 2014. They’ve lost three in a row, and four of their last five. The players are uncertain of what’s to come, and fans are on the verge of panic.
One team official wondered Tuesday if they would hear booing if they didn’t at least approach their usual standard, which will be difficult with Curry and Draymond Green both out of the lineup.
“Get back to the basics,” Kerr urges. “Take care of the ball. Defend at a high level. Box out; you don’t give your opponent extra possessions. All the little details you can get away with when you’re at full strength, you can’t get away with them now.”
Durant is the best bet to pull them out of his tailspin. Klay Thompson is the next best bet. Both have been in futile pursuit of the gifts that have made them two of the best players in the NBA.
If they don’t do it, who will?
“We’ve got to find a good balance to that,” Andre Iguodala says. “It’s kind of like that scale. You don’t want to tip one side too much, but you don’t want to forget about them as well. It’s just about having the right balance, but within the balance is trusting the system and the ball movement, that it’s going to find who it’s supposed to find.”
Given the current state of the Warriors, the ball is supposed to find Durant more often than anybody else. He needs to be locked in. Or maybe he needs a cause to help him with that.
He will have one Wednesday night. The schedule-makers don’t always get it right, but they did this time — inadvertently.