Kevin Durant is bloodied but the reigning league MVP remains unbowed.
He recognizes the depths from which his Oklahoma City Thunder must rise to have any chance of reaching the goals many once thought almost preordained for them. All that seemingly became gone like the wind when Durant and All-Star sidekick Russell Westbrook went down with major injuries before the first week of the regular season.
But don’t even think of sending any pity party invitations in Kevin Durant’s direction.
“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” he told the Washington Post. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about.”
With much of that same degree of bravado, the Thunder welcomed Durant and Westbrook back into the fold last week and now their much abbreviated season can finally begin in earnest. His team in the throes of a 7-13 start, Durant knows and embraces the reality that the rest of the season will almost need to be of epic proportions for any of it to matter.
Based on last year’s Western Conference final standings, where the eighth and final playoff qualifying Dallas Mavericks won 49 games, the Thunder will need to go no less than 42-20 the rest of the way to even make that cut. And the conference is arguably even more loaded this year than last.
Beyond that, for them to have any chance of reaching the Finals as they did during the 2011-12 season, they will almost certainly need to win at least three playoff series as a road team, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Robert Horry in Houston.
For Thunder fans, it’s a good thing that The Grim Reaper is as steely and unflappable as he’s even been. Now eight years in into his NBA run, the 26-year-old, four-time league scoring champ readily declares “you can’t please everybody. I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”
The Thunder can only hope they can cloak themselves in such heavy layers of resistance the rest of the NBA season. “We’re in a foreign land,” Durant admits. “We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re not hanging our head because nobody don’t care about what we’re doing, to be honest. I’m sure a lot of people are happy.”
Prior to missing this season’s first 17, never before has Durant missed more than seven consecutive NBA games. And even now, with the Thunder hurting as they are, some are wondering if he might be trying to do too much too soon in returning to action as quickly as he is.
“I knew when it was hurting and when it wasn’t,” said Durant. “That was easy enough. It was all about trusting my body, trusting our trainers, and realizing that long-term, I want the best for myself. Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise.”
Besides, it’s not as if the Thunder haven’t developed a blueprint for overcoming what they now face. Since dealing James Harden to the Rockets in 2012, OKC has gone 94-33 with both Durant and Westbrook in the lineup. Such a pace over the course of the remainder of this season would put the team at 52 wins and almost assuredly place their destiny in their own hands.
“I think that’s a myth as far as turning it on,” Durant said. “We know that every game is important, no matter what our record would’ve been. We got to always keep our button on. We can’t look past games, we can’t worry about where we’ll be at the all-star break. We got to step on the gas.”