Kevin Durant is only keeping it real.
When asked Tuesday afternoon how concerned he is about the health of point guard Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar was rather transparent and upfront with reporters.
“Not concerned at all,” Durant said following the Thunder’s shootaround in preparation for their game against the Memphis Grizzlies in FedExForum. “We’ve got guys that pride in what we’re do, guys that come out here and play hard. We’re not going to make excuses about what we do. We don’t have guys that make excuses. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. In fact, people may be happy we don’t have Westbrook.”
That Westbrook, the Thunder’s second-leading scorer, has been hampered off-and-on by injuries since late last season is nothing to new to Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer who had to steer the Thunder past the opening round of last year’s playoffs without the team’s star point guard. Westbrook has been sidelined since late December after having surgery on his right knee, a procedure that is expected to keep him out of the lineup until sometime after the All-Star break.
OKC has compiled a 5-4 mark since Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, sustained his latest injury on Christmas Day at the New York Knicks, although he managed to produce a triple-double in the game. After the team announced the next day that Westbrook would require surgery on the same knee he hurt in Game 1 of last year’s opening-round playoff game against Houston, Durant was among those who appeared optimistic the Thunder could remain just as competitive in Westbrook’s brief absence.
“It could be a lot worse, you know,” Durant said. “Thank God they said he’ll make a better recovery this time around. A lot could be worse, so we’re just focusing on the positives, knowing he’ll be healthy when he comes back. I’m worried about him getting healthy. Basketball will take care of itself, man.”
Last year, the Thunder entered the playoffs as the top-seeded team in the West and heavy favorites to return to the NBA Finals. However, after Westbrook injured his right knee when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley collided with him while attempting to steal, OKC beat the Rockets in six games before ultimately being eliminated by the Grizzlies in five games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Although he is roughly a month away from his likely return, Westbrook —- who isn’t required to speak with the media — made the trip to Memphis with the Thunder and sat alongside Durant after Tuesday’s shootaround with an ice pack draped over his knee.
What’s so inspiring this year, Durant said, is that the Thunder will have Westbrook back for what figures to be a pivotal stretch the second half of
the season. Heading into Tuesday night’s game at Memphis, OKC is currently tied with Portland for the NBA’s third-best record and trails first-place San Antonio by 1 ½ games for the top spot in the West.
In OKC’s previous visit to Memphis, Westbrook, appearing unaffected by a slight tear in his right meniscus he suffered last April, registered a game-high 27 points on 7-of-12 shooting in lifting the Thunder to a decisive 116-100 win against the Grizzlies.
“We’re a different team without Westbrook,” said Durant, who is averaging an NBA-best 29.6 points per game. “We know what we hang our hats on and that’s on the defensive end. We just want to play hard to be honest. You know, we can talk about X’s and O’s or how many shots this guy is taking. But it’s about playing hard. We might win every night, but we’re consistently playing hard. And that’s what it comes down to no matter who is on the court. Whether it’s Jeremy (Lamb), Reggie (Jackson), or Nick (Collison) or Steven (Adams), or Perry (Jones), it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to play hard and that’s what it boils down to. And I think we’ve been doing a good job of that.”
Also on Tuesday, Durant said he will play against the Grizzlies after missing practice the past couple of days while nursing a sore wrist he sustained after a hard fall last Saturday against visiting Milwaukee.
“I’m good,” Durant said. “I just took a little tumble. Everybody’s done that before.”