The distraction of wondering if Kevin Durant is going to return is behind us.
He’s not going to.
Life without Durant officially started Friday afternoon and the first game was Saturday night.
The first loss followed shortly after.
Once again, the Thunder fell on the road, and in a new twist, lost their way offensively. Utah beat Oklahoma City 94-89.
There won’t be any more talk about whether Durant will maybe make it back or maybe dust his uniform off in the final moments of the season. The team announced Friday that Durant will undergo a third surgery to repair a fracture in his right foot.
Life without Durant means the talk will center around whether Russell Westbrook can do all the heavy lifting and whether this team will make the playoffs.
Life after Durant means the Thunder are all-in on Westbrook. Perhaps, and probably, Westbrook knew this was the situation. After all, Durant has played just 27 games this season, so Westbrook has had plenty of time and games to get used to Durant being gone. And for the most part, Westbrook has excelled. You know the triple-double numbers. You know the intensity and effort.
But what we don’t know is how Westbrook will handle this team going forward, with full realization that Durant isn’t on the way back. Maybe this is a preview of what we’ll see after next season if Durant doesn’t re-sign with the Thunder. Perhaps, this knowledge will free up Westbrook even more.
So far, not so good.
Westbrook did score 37 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, but it was a choppy performance, highlighted by the fact Westbrook had no assists after the first quarter and turned it over nine times. Westbrook was 12-of-29 shooting, playing as though no one else could be counted on to help out. In that regard, Westbrook was partially correct. The the other four starters combined for just 26 points, 18 coming from Enes Kanter.
Does life after Durant mean a total difference to Westbrook? It appeared that way Saturday as the Thunder dropped a fourth game in a row on the road and fell to 2-6 in their past eight away from Oklahoma City.
Westbrook has played at superstar level for most of this season. So good, he’s in the MVP conversation, despite the fact the Thunder are just nine games over .500 and hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
However, unless Westbrook can get some real help â maybe it comes with the return of Serge Ibaka from injury at a date not yet known â he is going to have a hard time winning games on his own. Saturday, Kanter had a double-double and Anthony Morrow had 12 points on five shots. OKC will need more.
Spin it forward to Sunday night when OKC takes on Phoenix. This road trip will be judged successful for the Thunder with a win and doomed an ultimate failure with a loss. With 10 games to go, the Oklahoma City has a 2.5 game lead over New Orleans and a three-game lead over Phoenix.
They should be getting Ibaka back at some point Nick Collison and Andre Roberson should also be coming back before the end of the season.
Life without Durant started with 23 turnovers and just 57 points in the final 36 minutes.
It was a lot of Westbrook and not a lot of help.
Now we get to see if Westbrook and the Thunder handle it differently Sunday night in Phoenix.