WASHINGTON — Kevin Durant returns to play near his hometown for the first time since signing up with reigning Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors when they face the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on Tuesday.
Durant did not meet with Wizards officials when choosing his team for this season. Perhaps that will play a factor in how the crowd greets the Warriors sta. It is unlikely to alter the Warriors’ performance.
The Warriors arrive for their lone appearance in Washington, not far from the Maryland suburbs where Durant grew up, with the NBA’s best record. Golden State improved to 50-9 Monday with a 119-108 win at the Philadelphia 76ers, its fourth straight win. Durant, after sitting out the previous game with a bruised hand, scored 27 points.
Article continues below ...
Other than Golden State, no team was hotter entering the All-Star break than Washington (34-23). After opening 2017 with back-to-back losses, the Wizards went 18-3 over their final 21 games before the All-Star break.
That magic hasn’t returned. Following a 120-112 loss at Philadelphia on Friday and a 102-92 home loss to Utah on Sunday, the Wizards face the possibility of their first three-game losing streak since Nov. 11-16 when they fell to 2-8.
Washington failed to score at least 100 points for the first time in 24 games on Sunday and were outrebounded 52-27. This came after allowing the low-scoring 76ers 120 points.
“We’re going to have to get back to what we’ve done,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s disappointing that we did not do that. I like the fact that we came back and fought, and made it somewhat interesting at the end by picking up our level of physicality, but we had to for 48 minutes.”
Brooks had Durant as one of his players during his eight seasons as Oklahoma City’s head coach before the Thunder fired him in 2015. By that point Washington was already positioning itself for a run at the NBA’s 2014 Most Valuable Player. Turns out they never had a chance.
“I don’t want to open up anything in the past, but I really just didn’t want to play at home,” Durant told the Washington Post. “It was nothing about the fans. Being at home, I was so happy with that part of my life — playing at home, being in front of friends, hanging with friends and family every day. That was a part of my life that has come and gone.”
Hiring Brooks last April had some believing Washington hoped Brooks could lure his former player to the Wizards.
“Obviously I have a relationship with him and he was about to be a free agent, but I wasn’t hired — it wasn’t a package deal,” Brooks told the Washington Times after Monday’s practice.
Washington, fourth in the East, has thrived under its new coach despite the recent struggles.
All-Star John Wall had 23 points and 11 assists against Utah, but also committed nine turnovers and picked up his 11th technical foul due to frustration with the officiating.
“We didn’t make shots,” Wall said. “I did a bad job turning the ball over, but it’s tough to be in a game when someone is shooting (18) free throws to one in the first half.”
Golden State’s latest victory came despite Stephen Curry missing all 11 of his 3-point attempts.
Klay Thompson had 21 points, Curry added 19 and Zaza Pachulia had a season-high 16 points for the Warriors. Golden State took control by outscoring Philadelphia 34-24 in the third quarter.
“I forgot to the adjust to the thickness of the air,” Curry joked about his rare off night from behind the 3-point arc. “I don’t ever get down on myself. I still have confidence the next one is going in and that will stay the same tomorrow.”
Curry had 51 points and 11 3-pointers in a win at Washington last season.