By Randy Renner
He is an opponent today and make no mistake Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will be trying to beat the guy wearing the purple uniform but also make no mistake about this, KD is an unabashed supporter of Kobe Bryant.
"I've been disappointed this year because you guys (the media) treated him like shit," Durant said earlier this season as Bryant struggled with his game. "He's a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he's playing, how bad he's shooting and it's time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like shit, and I didn't really like it. So hopefully now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire."
Some in the national media and the LA media in particular have probably been guilty of that, familiarity after all breeds contempt as they say.
Here in Oklahoma City where Bryant generally has visited only twice a season there is no such disrespect.
Kobe brings a Lakers team that bears no resemblance to the great ones of the past to Chesapeake Energy Arena this afternoon. It will almost surely be the next to last time Oklahoma City NBA fans will have a chance to see Bryant up close. The Lakers return in April for their last visit and given Bryant’s injury problems the last couple seasons there’s no guarantee he’ll still be playing then.
But this afternoon just after 4 o’clock Bryant will be introduced with the Lakers starters. In past years, when Bryant and the Lakers were rolling, he and the others wearing purple and gold were booed loudly and lustily. A treatment befitting a team at the top from a place as foreign to Oklahoma as Los Angeles and Hollywood can be.
This afternoon though when Bryant’s name is called Thunder fans should stand up and cheer, not jeer, for one of the game’s greats. Say what you want about Kobe’s off the court problems of the past or his on the court deficiencies this season, when he’s out there he has always given everything he has to give and that deserves our respect.
Now About The Game
The Thunder had their six game winning streak snapped in Cleveland Thursday night 104-100 while the Lakers were being pounded in Houston 107-87 by the Rockets. Bryant though had another solid game tying a season high with eight rebounds and had 22 points in another good shooting night (9-for-16) and is at 53.2 percent in the last three games while averaging 23.0 points.
"My legs felt lively and they felt springy," the 20-year veteran said. "I don't know where it came from, but it was there. I can't really explain it. I feel like I can maintain this, but it's always a give-and-take with Father Time."
Because of injuries to both Bryant and Durant over the last couple of seasons today will be the first time the two have gone up against each other in a game since December 13, 2013. Bryant had four points in 23 minutes, Durant scored a game-high 31 and both sat out the fourth quarter as Oklahoma City won 122-97.
Durant missed last season's three meetings, though the Thunder won them all. Bryant's lone appearance in the teams' past six matchups came a year ago to the day of this one, scoring nine points on 3-of-15 shooting and missing a jumper at the buzzer in a 104-103 defeat.
The Thunder have dominated the Lakers lately, winning four straight season series, and LA comes in with the worst record in the Western Conference (4-22) and second worst in the NBA. The Lakers are giving up 110.5 points per 100 possessions, the second worst mark in the league, while the Thunder are scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions, the second best in the NBA. OKC is allowing 99.9, 11th in the NBA while LA is scoring just 97.5 second worst in the league.
Most of the Lakers problems come down to shooting where they average a league-worst 41.5 percent overall and 32.2 percent on 3-pointers (27th). The Thunder are 3rd in overall shooting (46.9 percent) and 11th in 3-pointers (35.8 percent). OKC is also second in rebounding (47.6 per game) and blocked shots (6.73).
It all adds up to what should be a good afternoon for the Thunder to bounce back from Thursday’s loss in Cleveland.
Don’t Forget The Early Tip Time
Except for those Sunday 6 o’clock starts most Thunder regular season games tipoff at 7pm, today things get start started three hours earlier at 4 o’clock.
A lot of you have been wondering why?
The official reason is so that the NBA can showcase three superstars and two teams who are wildly popular in Europe. A 4 o’clock tipoff in OKC means a 10pm start in London and 11 o’clock in most of Europe, primetime on a Saturday night in that part of the world.
It also gives the Thunder a chance to experiment with a time that will allow fans to get out of the arena at about 6:30 and fill up restaurants and bars in Bricktown or continue on with Christmas shopping. Plus it gives workers at The Peake a few more hours to setup the arena for Sunday afternoon’s Big 12-SEC women’s basketball challenge featuring Texas and Arkansas at 1 o’clock and OU vs. Texas A&M at 4pm.
Full Coverage Right Here
As usual we’ll have a full crew at the arena to provide Gameday updates beginning with early workouts at about 1 o’clock. Be sure to monitor the Twitter feed page here on the website for live updates from me and from others who regularly cover the Thunder. After the game we’ll have a postgame video with reaction from the lockerroom.