OAKLAND – Like all elite athletes, Kevin Durant brings a fierce pride to his work. He takes the court each night to make a statement, and some nights are reserved for a very special statement.
Such is the case Monday night.
That’s when Durant and the Warriors face Indiana at Oracle Arena. Though Pacers All-Star Paul George is one of Durant’s good friends, that relationship turns salty when they share the court on opposite sides.
“He’s my favorite player in the league. I’ve been saying that for a while,” Durant said after shootaround Monday morning. “He’s just so smooth, man, and can do it all: can pass, can rebound, can defend, can shoot the J, can post up, handle the ball. He’s my favorite player.
“Just getting to know him over the last few years, it makes the competition even better when we play against each other. I‘ve got nothing but respect for Paul. It’s a mutual respect. We always have battles when we play against each other, so I’m looking forward to it tonight.”
The players, longtime USA teammates in international competition, are similar in some regards. Both are listed at 6-foot-9, though Durant is closer to 7 feet. Both play “small forward,” but also can slide to power forward. Both are excellent scorers but also very capable defenders. And both seem to have found the perfect symmetry between confidence and humility.
“We want the same things on the basketball court,” Durant said. “He’s low-maintenance. He’s a superstar, but he’s a low-maintenance guy, doesn’t need much. It’s the same type of attitude that I bring. Just loves to play the game. Loves to work, too, so we kind of clicked.”
Durant, 28, is averaging 27.3 points per game, which leads the Warriors and ranks seventh in the NBA. He’s also averaging 8.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
George, 26, is averaging 20.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He has missed seven games due to injuries but played 34 minutes Sunday night in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles.
Durant recalled practicing with George, and also with Rockets star James Harden, during offseason sessions in LA. Three of the NBA’s best, on different teams, coming together to get better.
Which helps explain why Durant is happy for George, and pleased to see his friend back in action – not that it will be visible Monday night.
“When you’re on the court, you act like you don’t really know those guys,” Durant said. “And then, after the game is over, it’s all love. It brings a different level of competition to the game of basketball, and it’s been fun.”
OAKLAND – The Warriors will seek a successful conclusion to their five-game homestand Monday night, when they face the Indiana Pacers at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors have won three of four over the past nine days at home and 13 of their last 14 overall. They also own the NBA’s best record (17-3) and rank No. 1 in scoring (119.1 points per game).
The Pacers (10-10), however, will be a very different team than that which the Warriors pasted 120-83 two weeks ago in Indianapolis. All-Star forward Paul George, terrific young center Myles Turner and guard C.J. Miles all missed that game with injuries.
Indiana is coming off a 111-102 victory Sunday night over the Clippers in Los Angeles. The Pacers wiped out a 13-point second-half deficit to take the win.
Warriors by 13.5
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Kevin Durant vs. Paul George. Both are oversized “small” forwards with high-end athleticism. Durant is having an MVP-level season, while George has been a tick below his usual lofty standard, partly because he has been fighting injuries. He’s healthy now. This battle of elite players is deserving of a spotlight.
Warriors: No injuries listed.
Pacers: No injuries listed.
Warriors: C Damian Jones is on assignment with Santa Cruz of the D-League.
The Warriors won the first meeting, 120-83, on Nov. 21 in Indianapolis, and have won three straight and five of the last six. The Warriors have won seven of the last nine at Oracle Arena.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Ball security. The Warriors can get sloppy at times, often against mediocre opponents, but Indy’s active defense is good enough to make them pay. The Pacers are tops in the league in forcing turnovers (16 per game) and second in steals.
Pound the glass. Though the Warriors are not a particularly strong rebounding team, ranking 19th in rebounding percentage, they’ll need to be good enough to take advantage of a Pacers team that ranks dead list in that category.
Contain Myles. Pacers center Myles Turner came to Oakland as a 19-year-old rookie last season and spent the evening punishing the Warriors, ringing up 31 points – his career-high. The Warriors had no answer for the 6-foot-11, 280-pound specimen, who happens to be a spectacular athlete.