The Oklahoma City Thunder come into the new season with lofty goals. They looked very much like a contender in their opener.
Kevin Durant scored 30 points to help the Thunder win their opener with a 97-89 victory Sunday night over Orlando, a team that has been dealing with Dwight Howard’s trade demands since training camp opened.
While Durant shined, Howard struggled, held to just 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
”We know that are outside expectations,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ”But there aren’t absolutes or guarantees. Our guys just work. I know it gets boring at times, but we like that. We’re not going to change. We’re all in the same boat on that. You can never become complacent. It has to be about the team.”
Durant led the league in scoring the past two seasons, including averaging 27.7 last season. On Sunday, he was 11-of-19 from the field and added five rebounds and six assists.
James Harden added 19 points and the Thunder duo of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed limited Howard.
The Thunder lost to Dallas last year in the Western Conference finals but are expected to one of the top teams this season. They led throughout, including by 18 at the end of the third quarter and really were never in danger of losing.
”It’s something we can’t control,” Durant said of expectations. ”We have to keep getting better every day and see what happens.”
The Magic looked like a team that was still dealing with the distraction of Howard and his trade demands, which dominated headlines in Orlando since the lockout ended. The All-Star center has softened his stance lately.
”I didn’t like the pace of our offense,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”I thought we were moving slowly. I thought the ball didn’t move.”
NBA commissioner David Stern weighed in on the Howard situation Sunday, saying before the game, ”That’s the beauty of the soap opera. How it plays out, we’ll wait and see.”
Howard, the Magic’s star center averaged more than 22 points per game last year, shooting 59 percent for the season.
He did have 15 rebounds.
A 13-2 run in the second quarter, after Durant and Russell Westbrook checked back in, helped the Thunder get out to a 17-point lead. They led 55-41 at the break. Durant had 14 points in the first half.
Ryan Anderson scored 25 points and Jameer Nelson added 18 for the Magic, who shot just 37 percent from the field and had 18 turnovers.
”It was a good game for us,” Brooks said. ”Everybody chipped in. We had a lot of good plays tonight.”
Notes: Durant missed five free throws. He is a career 88 percent free throw shooter … The Thunder outscored the Magic in the paint, 32-30 but were outrebounded 45-43.