OKLAHOMA CITY — While it seems like the entire basketball universe is building up to Kevin Durant making his return to Oklahoma City on Saturday, the Thunder have the small matter of the defending champions to deal with first.
In what form the Cavaliers appear in Thursday’s game is unknown, though, as Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after Wednesday’s 132-117 victory in Indiana that LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving might all sit out the contest.
He said he wouldn’t make the decision until Thursday.
With concern growing over James playing more than 37 minutes per game, Lue announced he would try to get the average down to less than 34 for the rest of the season. James played 38 minutes Wednesday in Cleveland’s fourth straight victory.
“Coach is going to do a good job of looking at my numbers and trying to get me rest throughout the game, but I don’t see me having slowed down,” James told ESPN.com. “My numbers are up, but we’ve been in a good groove, and if I get rest here, couple minutes here throughout the game, couple minutes there, off days, things of that nature. It helps the body, but it’s whatever coach wants to do.”
It is not often that James and Cleveland are the appetizer to the main course, but that has been the case this week. But no matter how big the pending reunion of Russell Westbrook and Durant may be, Oklahoma City (30-23) can’t afford to look past the Cavaliers (36-15) no matter who plays.
“I think we’re all right,” Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said. “There are some things we need to get better at. Some things we need to continue to keep doing well. Just have to be ready for (Thursday) night.”
It was just a week ago that Cleveland laid waste to the Thunder at Quicken Loans Arena with a 107-91 beat down. Even though Westbrook picked up a triple-double, the game got out of hand and the Thunder couldn’t mount a consistent attack.
That has been the situation seemingly every time Oklahoma City faces one of the top three teams in the league — Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio.
“We have to play better overall, collectively as a group,” Oladipo said. “Especially on the defensive end. Just have to bear down and figure out ways to get stops consistently over a 48-minute period. We just have to continue to keep bouncing back and keep building off what we’re doing well.”
Coach Billy Donovan said his Thunder can learn something from playing the elite teams in the league.
“Clearly the consistency on defense. It’s trying to build a level of stamina to be able to do it over a long period of time,” Donovan said. “If you’re struggling offensively or have a tough night shooting the basketball, that’s the best opportunity to give yourself a chance to win.”
Cleveland was without guard Iman Shumpert on Wednesday because of an ankle sprain. There was no immediate word on his availability for Thursday.