By Randy Renner
Getting Kevin Durant back into the Thunder lineup makes a world of difference. It makes things easier for the offense and much tougher for opponent defenses.
Without KD in the lineup the Thunder are 3-3 averaging 103.0 points on 43.7 percent shooting. Those numbers increase to 114.3 points and 49.3 percent when Durant plays and the Thunder are 6-3 in those games.
Monday night in OKC's 111-89 win at Utah, Durant and his teammates hit a season-high 54.5 percent of their shots and maybe more importantly held Utah under 40 percent shooting.
The four-time NBA scoring champion was 10-for-13 in his first game back since straining a hamstring and has averaged 28.0 points while shooting a career-best 52.4 percent in the nine games he's played.
With both Durant and Russell Westbrook in the lineup the Thunder are averaging 117.5 points per 100 possessions.
As he did last season, Westbrook shouldered a larger load in Durant's absence, averaging 32.7 points and 9.3 assists. With KD back in the lineup some of Westbrook's numbers were down but he remained effective and efficient scoring 20 points on just 10 field-goal attempts Monday night and handed out nine assists.
"You got 30 points that is not in the lineup, so that changes a lot for your team," Westbrook said of the games Durant had to miss, "and when you have that back it makes it easier, a lot easier for us as a team."
The Thunder's increased offensive efficiency with Durant back comes at a bad time for tonight's opponent the 3-11 Brooklyn Nets. They've been disastrous defensively, giving up 104.4 points per game and 46.6 percent shooting to rank worst among Eastern Conference teams.
The Nets are 1-8 on the road but have won their last three visits to Oklahoma City. Brooklyn has won four of the past five meetings overall, though Westbrook missed the last four and Durant the last two.
Both Thunder superstars will play tonight and should make a big enough difference to allow the Thunder to get their third 3-game winning streak of the season.