Three-Pointers: Kevin Durant scores 41, toes triple-double; Thunder top Knicks
The Thunder downed the Knicks 112-100 on Sunday behind Kevin Durant's 41 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Oklahoma City swept the season series and improved to a West-leading 41-12. New York dropped to 20-31.
• Kevin Durant bests Carmelo Anthony in every aspect. There's a reason Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are often discussed as peers. Both are phenomenal scorers, prolific No. 1 options, and two of the elite shot-makers in the league. Both are past scoring champions and are once again 1-2 in this year's race (Some foreshadowing: Durant is No. 1). They're both about 6-foot-9, annual fixtures of the All-Star Game and two of the most popular players in the league.
But there's also a reason why Kevin Durant's team won Sunday's matchup with relative ease and why they're atop the Western Conference, while Carmelo Anthony's team isn't even a playoff squad in the desolate East.
It's not just that Durant made more shots on Sunday -- he scored a game-high 41 points vs. Carmelo's season-low 15 -- it's everything else that he did as well. While Carmelo and his Knicks teammates had no answer for Durant defensively, Durant held Carmelo (5-of-19 shooting) in check for most of the night and added two blocks and 10 rebounds for good measure.
While Carmelo did a decent job distributing the ball (five assists) on an off shooting night, his effort still paled in comparison to Durant's nine, which complemented a typically scorching scoring performance. Carmelo took just five free throws, Durant had 18. KD had a plus-minus rating of +10, 'Melo had -9. You get the picture.
This isn't a call-out of Carmelo as much as it is a hat tip to Durant. There's a reason why he's the favorite to win his first Most Valuable Player award this season and end LeBron James' two-year run. He's playing better basketball than anyone else on earth right now. Durant leads the NBA's scoring race by almost four points per game, he's No. 1 in Player Efficiency Rating, he's eyeing the famed 50/40/90 shooting splits and he's also averaging 7.6 rebounds and a career-high 5.5 assists to boot.
Thunder vs. Knicks showdowns will always be billed as Durant vs. Carmelo showcases as long as the two are on their respective teams. But as Sunday proved, as well as the 2013-14 season as a whole, Durant's in a league of his own when it comes to the NBA's No. 1 scoring options these days. You've been warned.
• Mike Woodson's future in New York grows a little bleaker. Heads have begun to fall around the league as owners acknowledge the reality of squandered seasons. The Cavaliers axed GM Chris Grant earlier this week, followed by the Pistons' dismissal of Maurice Cheeks on Sunday.
With the Knicks dropping to 1-5 in February and falling two games out of the East's eighth playoff spot, it's natural to wonder if the domino effect will extend to New York and the beleaguered Mike Woodson, who has been surrounded by rumors involving his job status for weeks. Sunday's nationally televised game served as just the latest letdown in the Knicks' maligned season. While Woodson definitely deserves a healthy share of the blame for the Knicks' struggles, it's not logical to pin them entirely on the coach. At one point during Sunday's game, Woodson called time out and stared down J.R. Smith after allowing Durant to score an easy bucket. Was Smith to blame for allowing Durant to score? Or was Woodson at fault for putting the notoriously suspect defender on the NBA's scoring leader?
Like all of the Knicks' struggles this year, there's no one person that deserves all the blame. But when it comes to New York's future, it's a lot easier for James Dolan to fire the head coach than salvage one of the most overpriced and underperforming rosters in the league.
If the Knicks decide to part with Woodson in hopes of creating a spark and a late playoff push, the interim coach won't face an easy road. Of New York's 31 remaining games, 19 are away from home and 15 are against current playoff teams.
• The Thunder are so much more than just Kevin Durant. Which is pretty scary to think, considering Russell Westbrook is still wearing street clothes. In addition to Durant's ho-hum 41 points, the Thunder also got 19 points from Westbrook's fill-in Reggie Jackson, 16 points (8-of-11) and nine rebounds from Serge Ibaka and 12 points and a game-high four steals from Thabo Sefolosha.
With his dominance demanding opponents key in on him at all times, Durant is averaging 6.4 assists per game since Westbrook was sidelined in late December. That number is even higher than the career-high 5.6 he's averaging this season, a reflection not only of Durant's increased efforts to get his teammates involved but their evolution as capable scorers.
The biggest improvements from the Thunder's supporting cast this year have come from Jackson and Ibaka, who is averaging a career-high 15.3 points and has extended his offensive arsenal to even include three-point shots (37.8 percent on the year) this season.
That's pretty impressive stuff from a guy who would be worth playing 30 minutes a night for his defense and shotblocking (second in the NBA with 2.5 per game) alone. He's also capable of providing highlights like this, which don't exactly hurt.
The return of Westbrook will just make the Thunder that much deeper, adding to the reasons why they're the favorites out West and possibly the NBA's best chance at ending the Heat's two-year run. The Thunder are 1-0 against Miami this year and get another crack at the champs later this month on Feb. 20.