- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time off for Kevin Durant only delayed what he usually does. The last time the Washington Wizards faced the Oklahoma City Thunder’s spindly scoring conundrum, he returned from missing six consecutive games because of an ankle injury. His first night back came during Washington’s trying swing through Texas before heading to play the Thunder earlier in the month. Durant scored 34 points in the Thunder’s 109-102 win. No one was surprised.

“We are pretty sure we had that game in OKC,” Wizards center Marcin Gortat said. “But, unfortunately, we lost to Kevin Durant. We were pretty good in the fourth quarter and then he just took over. He’s such a talented player, we can’t let him do that.”

Paul Pierce tried to stop Durant. Then, it was Rasual Butler. And back to Pierce. The Wizards trapped Durant on occasion when they were supposed to, but also did not on others. They wanted to mix coverages against him both individually and as a team. He blended his counters.

In the fourth quarter, once Durant was cooking from the outside, Pierce played him high, expecting Durant to run to the top off a pin-down screen. Instead, Durant cut back toward the hoop, put in an alley-oop from Russell Westbrook and was fouled by Pierce. He screamed on the floor with joy. The Thunder led 105-97 after the free throw with 1:42 to play.

“You’re not going to stop him,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “Guys that are leading scorers in the league, you’re not going to stop. You got to try to make it difficult. You’ve got to make him take difficult, contested shots. You’ve got to give him different looks. You’re not going to stop him, though. That’s the main thing any time you’re playing great players like that. You’ve got to try to put them in uncomfortable situations rather than let them get to their comfort levels.”

Durant was born in The District and returns averaging 25.4 points per game. He’s such an attraction that two of the league’s best points guards are a sidenote to his arrival. John Wall, expected to be the Eastern Conference All-Star starter at point guard, and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, a freak even among the freaks, will also face each other. But the focus will remain on Durant because his blend of talent and height make deterring him almost impossible.

“[He’s] like a 7-foot [shooting] guard,” Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “He can put the ball on the floor. Shoots threes. And, he’s a competitor.”

Since arriving in the league, Durant’s stretched-out frame has suggested weakness. His inability to bench press 185 pounds when he declared for the draft out of Texas in 2007 led to T-shirts that said, “I can bench more than Kevin Durant.” It also made for a misguided talking point about Durant’s NBA potential.

He’ll come to Verizon Center as a five-time All-Star and the reigning MVP. Though he’s stronger, there is no interest in his current bench-press ability — only in trying to beat him.

“We’re definitely going to try to be physical with him,” Beal said.

Despite Durant’s precision last time — he scored 34 points on 18 shots — the Wizards were in lockstep with the Thunder throughout the game. As much as Durant’s deep 3-pointers in the fourth quarter did in the Wizards, so did their inability to score. They put up just 20 points, their worst quarter of the game.

Wittman likened the game to what the Wizards went through against the San Antonio Spurs during the same road trip. In San Antonio, the Wizards were outscored 23-15 in the fourth quarter of a nine-point loss. When the Wizards beat the Spurs on Jan. 13 in D.C., they outscored them 26-21 in the fourth quarter of a nine-point win.

“He made some bombs against us coming down the stretch,” Wittman said of Durant. “Couple didn’t matter what we would have done. He made them. You know what? You tip your hat to him. Hopefully, we put ourselves in position [Wednesday] night that we make the plays.”

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