Monday NBA Roundup: Wizards Fail Again to Impress Free-Agent-to-Be Kevin Durant

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 2, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- FEBRUARY 1: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the game against the Washington Wizards on February 1, 2016 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Kevin Durant won't see his hometown Washington Wizards again until the Oklahoma City Thunder play them next season.

Or until KD's new team plays them next season.

Or until he shows up to training camp as a member of the Wizards.

Whatever the case, Durant's lasting memory in the interim will be of Monday's game—one he and his current team dominated by a final score of 114-98. One that highlighted so many of the reasons Washington shouldn't (and probably never did) have a shot to ink him as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Durant led all scorers with an easy 28 points, and Russell Westbrook roasted John Wall early and often on the way to his second consecutive triple-double. In fact, he had the necessary digits at an alarmingly early juncture, per Royce Young of ESPN.com:

Royce Young @royceyoung

This is Westbrook's third triple-double this season in three quarters. Nobody else in the NBA has more than one.

Russ finished with 17 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting. Serge Ibaka helped out, too, posting 19 points and 10 boards on an 8-of-12 effort from the floor.

In the process of getting his numbers, Westbrook made it obvious that if Durant were to consider leaving, he'd be ditching the best teammate he's ever likely to have. And it didn't hurt that Russ went out of his way to get KD an extra bucket or two:

The Durant-Westbrook pairing has long been scrutinized, but the idea that the two somehow get in each other's way has now mostly (thankfully) been debunked. Part of the reason: OKC is a monster again with both superstars healthy, which is exactly what it's always been in that circumstance.

Health matters, of course, but failing to mention Westbrook's growth is a mistake. He's in the midst of the best season of his career, better than his stat-stuffing, Durant-less charge through the league last year, because efficiency matters.

And there are plays every game that underscore how Westbrook is changing, filing down some rough edges while keeping the one—his feral competitive streak—that matters.

Mike Prada of SB Nation noticed one such display:

Reggie Comma Mike Prada @MikePradaSBN

The agility Russ showed on that assist to Ibaka was really impressive. He was under control in a way he wouldn’t have been 3 years ago

A top-five talent that keeps getting better is not one Durant seems likely to leave behind. In terms of personnel, there is no such thing as a greener pasture.

Oklahoma City is 26-6 since Dec. 1, only marginally worse than the world-beating San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, who sit at 26-4 and 25-4 in that span, respectively. Imagine, for a moment, the extent of the changes Washington—a team in real danger of missing the playoffs in the Eastern Conference—would have to make to approach that kind of performance.

Do that while keeping in mind the fact that this year's free-agent crop is underwhelming after Durant. If the Wiz could somehow secure Al Horford in addition to KD (unlikely with Bradley Beal needing a max extension), you're still not looking at a roster with the talent the Thunder have. And forget about matching the chemistry and proven Finals pedigree.

Jan 29, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) react after a play against the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODA
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It's just...it's just a pipe dream. It was when the Thunder beat Washington 125-101 on Nov. 10, it is now and it looks like it'll always be that way. The Wizards have now lost six of their last eight.

I guess we can blame LeBron James for this. He's the one who revived the dead narrative of the superstar returning home to enliven the land and team of his upbringing. He's the reason why we, despite no credible reports of Durant's interest in Washington, have to entertain this purely speculative idea of KD joining the Wizards.

So if another dominant Thunder win over Washington helps put that sourceless rumor to bed, great.

At the very least, we got more evidence that Durant has it pretty good right now. And that at 27 years old, with an injury-ruined season refreshing his understanding of NBA mortality just last year, you'd have to assume KD values the present and would think twice before sacrificing precious time to build a future elsewhere.

So long, Durant-to-Washington nonsense. We never liked you that much, anyway.

Myles Turner Doesn't Care What You Want

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 1: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers fights for the position against Myles Turner #33 and Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the game on February 1, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOT
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

I wanted to make this blurb about the Cleveland Cavaliers' frustrating offensive overhaul under new head coach Tyronn Lue. About how they've actually played at a slower pace since he succeeded David Blatt (despite an insistence on putting the pedal down), and how that might not even matter because the Cavs seem happier—as evidenced by little fits of excitingly fluid offense and, notably, a statement win over the Spurs on Saturday.

But Myles Turner didn't care about what I wanted.

The Indiana Pacers rookie logged his first career double-double in a 111-106 overtime loss Monday, though it would have been a triple-double if exclamation-inducing highlights were an officially recognized stat category.

On the way to 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Turner locked up Kyrie Irving in an isolation set:

Pinned LeBron James' dunk attempt to the board:

And made a four-time MVP think hard enough about his next foray to the rim to force a miss:

It's also true that Turner forgot his assignment on Indiana's final play of regulation, which short-circuited a possible game-winning attempt. But Indiana's late-game execution has been so uninventive and awful all year that it's possible he just assumed he was supposed to screw up the set.

If the story of this game hadn't been Turner, it would have been Indy's repetitive crunch-time botch jobs.

The Cavs won (shakily), and they seem a little better than they did under Blatt—even if the transformation is still more perception than reality. But Turner, a legitimate shot-blocking stretch 5 in the making, had to get some shine here.

Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports summed it up like this:

Dan Devine @YourManDevine

Myles Turner is really big, and really quick, and really agile, and pretty soon we’re going to start running out of really.

If he can draw up plays out of timeouts, he'll have a statue in Indiana by the time he's 25.

It Was a Big Night for Blocks

The Detroit Pistons beat the Brooklyn Nets by a final of 105-100, and Andre Drummond (21 points and 18 rebounds) got on the boards with a frequency that should quiet the perpetually picky head coach Stan Van Gundy.

"His focus—everybody else's focus—has gone to free-throw shooting instead of to the fact that he needs to be a dominant rebounder," SVG previously told reporters after Detroit's last loss, its second straight.

But Thaddeus Young did this to Ersan Ilyasova, adding to the theme of high-altitude denial established by Turner against Cleveland:

So declaring a real victor in this game is trickier than you might think.

It Was Also a Big Night for Awesome Rookies

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

We covered Turner, who's great. But Denver Nuggets rookie Nikola Jokic is an even bigger first-year frontcourt stud.

He had a career night, scoring 27 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and handing out four assists as the Nugs' offensive fulcrum in a 112-93 stunner that ended the Toronto Raptors' league-leading 11-game winning streak.

Quietly, Jokic has been a statistical marvel this season in small samples. And with his playing time increasing in recent weeks, his performances have become harder to dismiss. Watch him, and all of the non-stat stuff is there: the touch, the court sense, the passing feel.

Maybe the best way to explain the difference between him and Turner is to say that Turner played a big role in Indiana's loss, while Jokic controlled almost everything in Denver's win.

"I know Nikola Jokic and I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the world," Nuggets head coach Mike Malone told reporters after the game. "He's a special young man, he's a special young talent and he's only going to get better as he continues to get stronger, learn the NBA, finishing around the basket, defensively."

B/R's Dan Favale and the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat got hyperbolic (but not by much):

Dan Favale @danfavale

Greatest NBA players of all time: 1. Will Barton 2. Nikola Jokic 3. Who cares 4. Who cares 5. Who cares 6. Who cares 7. Who cares 8. Who ca

Ryan Wolstat @WolstatSun

Arvydas Jokic leaves to a standing ovation from the 3,000 or so still here.

The Nuggets have what appears to be a real franchise cornerstone. Jokic is the real deal. This is not a drill.

Hey, There's Jeff Teague!

As a general rule, you don't want to see numbers like this from your three best players if you're serious about winning a playoff series or two, per Brad Rowland of PeachtreeHoops.com:

Brad Rowland @BTRowland

The Hawks have a -2.8 net rating when Horford, Millsap and Teague play together this season.

That stat applied to the Atlanta Hawks' top trio before a 112-97 win over the Dallas Mavericks that snapped a three-game losing streak and indicated Jeff Teague might finally be ready to start playing this season. The point guard scored a season-high 32 points in just 28 minutes, hitting 12 of his 15 shots and handing out eight assists against just two turnovers.

Green is good:


The Hawks had lost five of six, and Teague, the subject of trade rumors for much of the past few weeks, per Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports (via Andy Larsen of KSL.com), desperately needed to get his game back. Before the big effort Monday, his effective field-goal percentage sat at 46.5 percent, his lowest accuracy rate since 2010-11, per Basketball-Reference.com.

If Teague gets back to the level he reached last season, Atlanta's up-and-down offensive performance should stabilize, giving it a much more realistic chance at bothering the East's top teams in the second half of the year. After finishing sixth in offensive efficiency during 2014-15, Atlanta's No. 14 ranking this season isn't cutting it.

We'll need to see much more from the Hawks point guard before signing off on a full resurgence, but Monday's outburst was a welcome sign.

The Jazz Have the Cosmos on Their Side

They also have a mostly healthy roster for the first time in months, which is important. But their first three-game winning streak of the year, achieved via a 105-96 overtime win against the Chicago Bulls, got a nice little boost from the universe's unseen balancing forces.

That's what Gordon Hayward, he of the game-high 27 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, thinks, anyway, per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News:

Jody Genessy @DJJazzyJody

Gordon Hayward didn't see Derrick Rose's bow he made after hitting his go-ahead 3 late in regulation, but he had one word for it: "Karma."

The karmic event in question? Derrick Rose's theatrical bow after hitting a trey to put Chicago up by three with 18.5 ticks left in regulation:

A boss move, for sure, but only if you hold on to win. Which the Bulls did not.

Utah has Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert patrolling the lane, Hayward playing his best and Rodney Hood solidifying his role as a true starting wing. As a result, the defense is shaping up, the wins are coming more frequently and the Jazz are getting closer to delivering on the playoff promise their second-half run showed last season.

They may not need it, but it seems they also have karma working for them.

Scott Skiles Knows of What He Speaks

Even with Tim Duncan (knee) out, head coach Scott Skiles knew his Orlando Magic were in for a tough one against the Spurs on Monday, per Paul Garcia of ProjectSpurs.com:

Paul Garcia @PaulGarciaNBA

"They're going to find the weak link out there and they're going to expose it." - Magic Coach Scott Skiles on facing the Spurs.

The Magic went 2-12 in January, so a best hope against the Spurs may have been their sheer volume of weak links. Maybe San Antonio would seize up, suffer that crippling paralysis of choice we all get when we log onto Netflix without a clear plan and scroll through endlessly, unable to settle on one of the zillion options in front of us.

In the end, San Antonio exposed Orlando's most obvious flaw: its complete inability to score.

After batting the Magic around for a while, the Spurs tightened up their league-best defense and held Orlando to 40.6 percent shooting on the night. The Magic mustered 92 points—a total reflection of an offense that has sunk all the way to 25th in the league.

Let this be a lesson: You cannot hope to inspire confusion or pity in San Antonio, no matter how varied your failings or how deeply pitiable you may be. 

Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Accurate through games played Feb. 1.


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