- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scott Brooks can relate, at least to an extent. He made his return trip to Oklahoma City back in November. When visiting his former employer, Brooks, a congenial man who is on the look out for the everyday worker, greeted the behind-the-scenes people. In NBA arenas, that means ushers and security. People who hold things together outside of the lights and noise.

When Kevin Durant rose from his seat Saturday night wearing a Golden State Warriors uniform in Oklahoma City and was booed — hard — Brooks knew of some of the feelings that come with a return to a past home, a place of growth. He figured those same ushers and security people who were so nice to him were equally nice to Durant. Brooks spent seven seasons in Oklahoma City. Durant was there for eight. Brooks was fired. Durant left to join a juggernaut that beat the Thunder in last season’s Western Conference Finals. Brooks was cheered. Durant was belittled by jeers of “Cupcake,” T-shirts that called him a “KowarD” and dust-ups with former teammates Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson.

“I’m sure he felt it the same way I felt it when you walk into the gym or the arena,” Brooks said. “…The crowd — I saw that part of it. It was mixed, maybe even more on the booing side. He’s done a lot for that team, done a lot for that city. Fans have that choice. The one thing I can relate it to when I was there, Blake Griffin was an Oklahoma legend from high school and college. When they played in the game they were booing the [Los Angeles] Clippers left and right when he was getting lobs on us 10 feet above the rim. Fans do that. We expect our fans [in Washington] to be hard on our opponent.”

Brooks said he watched part of Saturday night’s combative game between the Thunder and Warriors. He watches basketball all the time, even on Christmas day when the Wizards were off. There were multiple reasons for him to watch Saturday night, the largest not having to do with sentiment. Monday, the Thunder come to Verizon Center to play the still-surging Wizards in their final home game before the All-Star break.

Hurricane Westbrook fronts everything the Thunder does. Brooks personally watched Westbrook move from a surly draft pick who was suggested to be a reach and a non-point guard evolve into someone trying to become the first man to average a triple-double since 1962. He’s the non-stop core that is a holdover from when Brooks last coached Oklahoma City in 2015.

“They got number zero and he’s not new,” Brooks said. “He’s a special talent. Doing things that haven’t been done for 60 years. He brings that fight every night. No-excuse guy. That team plays that way because of Russell.”

Healing before facing him was John Wall. The Wizards’ four-time All-Star point guard will be going to New Orleans this weekend to again be Washington’s lone all-star weekend participant. Early Sunday afternoon, Wall sat off to the side of the practice court in shower shoes and an all-back sweatsuit. Attached to his lower left leg were the pads of a bio wave machine that helps stimulate blood flow. The blue control box sat in his lap. Marcin Gortat talked in his ear. Wall did not practice Sunday even though the Wizards also had Saturday off.

He said the treatment was a result of spraining his left ankle in Friday’s win against the Indiana Pacers. Brooks called Wall’s issue a “sore foot” and one that has been with him for a couple weeks. Neither was alarmed.

“Nothing serious,” Brooks said. “It will be fine [Monday].”

The Wizards have just two games remaining before the All-Star break: Monday at home against Oklahoma City and Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Indiana Pacers. Win both, and Washington can be no worse than third place in the Eastern Conference when the break begins. Stumble, and it could slide two spots, undercutting what has been the league’s most dramatic turnaround this season.

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