NBA: Durant an 'impossible matchup' for opponents
By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Alvin Gentry gets a kick out of the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder roster lists Kevin Durant at 6 feet, 9 inches tall.
Maybe if he were actually that size — instead of a few inches taller — defenders would have a better chance of slowing down the NBA’s second-leading scorer.
“He’s just a real tough matchup. When you talk about matchups, you look at Kobe and LeBron and Dwyane Wade or Carmelo and then obviously he’s right there,” said Gentry, the Phoenix Suns coach. “Of course, the thing that they don’t have that he has is he’s got such length. He’s almost a 7-foot guy. That’s the bottom line.”
Durant’s size and athleticism have made him nearly impossible to guard, certainly over the last couple of months. He can maneuver around just about anyone tall enough to match his lanky frame, and he can simply shoot over shorter opponents, no matter how closely they guard him.
He has scored at least 25 points in 32 of his last 34 games, including a stretch of 29 in a row that was the longest streak since Michael Jordan did it on the way to his first NBA scoring title during the 1986-87 season.
Gentry recalled seeing Durant standing next to the Suns’ 6-foot-10 center, Amare Stoudemire, during the All-Star game and noticed that Durant was actually taller. Combine that with Durant’s wingspan and it’s hard to find anyone who can get a hand in the way of his jump shot.
“I don’t think you care who you put on him. What you can’t do is you can’t duplicate what he is, and that’s a 6-11 guy with length and speed and shooting ability and ball-handling skills and things like that,” Gentry said. “The closest guy is probably George Gervin, and he probably wasn’t anywhere close to being as athletic as Durant is.”
Durant was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year two seasons ago but his numbers from then pale in comparison to what he’s doing now. He averaged 20.3 points in that first season with the Seattle SuperSonics and was scoring 21.1 points per game in his first 12 games under P.J. Carlesimo last season in Oklahoma City.
Scott Brooks took over for Carlesimo and last season moved Durant from shooting guard to small forward, his numbers have taken off. Durant scored five more points per game in the final 62 games of last season and is now averaging 29.7 points this season — one-tenth of a point behind NBA leader LeBron James. He has been averaging more than 31 points since Christmas.
“He’s such a unique player and such a difficult defend,” Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. “Whether he’s getting double- or triple-teamed, he’s passing the basketball. He can put the ball on the floor, he can attack the basket, he can run, he can shoot long-range shots. The way that he shoots the basketball and the confidence with which he plays, he’s just going to continue to get better and better.”
Brooks said he made the move because he wanted Durant — then just beginning his second NBA season — to focus on learning one position and he thought small forward was the most natural fit.
Now, he’s comfortable putting him at three different positions.
“Kevin can score from many different spots, so you don’t have to just single him out at one spot or you can’t just say, `OK, this is where he’s going to be’ because it’s quarter to quarter, game to game,” Brooks said. “He might have a 3-point game going, he might have a drive game going, a mid-range game, a transition game.
“He’s like a lot of the better scorers in the league. They can score in so many different areas.”
When Dallas held Durant to a season-low 12 points and 4-of-18 shooting back in December, veteran Jason Kidd said there was no secret to the Mavericks’ plan of deploying Shawn Marion and Josh Howard against him: “He had some great looks that he normally would make, and we just got lucky.”
Three games later, Durant started his run of 29 straight with 25 or more points. That streak ended with a 22-point outing at San Antonio last week, and then Denver found a new way to keep him from scoring on Wednesday night — by building a huge lead and getting Brooks to put him on the bench after he’d scored only 19 points.
With Durant leading the Thunder into the thick of the playoff race, shutting him down has been no simple task.
“He’s a freak of nature,” said Kings coach Paul Westphal, who has heard Durant compared to Gervin and Bob McAdoo. “He’s got really long arms, he’s really tall, he’s very quick and he’s got beautiful shooting touch. And he doesn’t get tired of scoring. You’d think you’d say, `OK, big fella, you’ve got your 25. Go ahead and relax a little bit now.’ But he doesn’t get tired of it. He can score inside and out.
“I think their team likes for him to score and looks for him in all different ways. He’s going to be a terror in this league for the next 15 to 20 years.”
Gentry said he puts Durant in the same category as Dallas All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, a 7-footer with an equally deadly jumper.
“He’s just an impossible matchup,” Gentry said. “You can’t get size, strength, quickness on him. So you just do the best job that you can. Obviously, everybody in the league has struggled with it.”