DALLAS – With 15 games to go Kevin Durant remains positioned to capture a fourth consecutive scoring title and could join the ultra-select 50-40-90 club.
His margin for error, however, is slim on both counts.
After recovering from a slow start Sunday to score 31 points on 10-for-19 shooting (2-for-5 on 3-pointers) in a 107-101 win at Dallas, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar has put together four consecutive games of 50-percent-or-better shooting. That’s critical to Durant’s quest to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line, especially since his overall field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage have slipped since the All-Star break.
Durant is attempting to become just the sixth player in NBA history to accomplish a 50-40-90 season. But Durant is shooting 45.3 percent from the floor (105-for-232) and just 33.3 percent (17-for-51) from beyond the arc in the 14 games since the All-Star break. He’s maintained his free throw shooting, hitting 91.7 percent (122-for-133).
(It should be noted that while his scoring — 24.9 ppg — and shooting percentages have dipped since the All-Star break, Durant has averaged 8.9 rpg and 5.1 apg, both better than his season averages.)
When OKC plays host Tuesday night to the streaking Denver Nuggets, who beat the Thunder on March 1 on Ty Lawson‘s buzzer-beater and limited Durant to 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting (1-for-4 on 3s), Durant will bring shooting percentages of 50.6, 41.1 and 90.8.
His overall field-goal percentage is most vulnerable. A couple of 6-for-19 nights like he had last month against Chicago could ruin his chances.
“I hope so,” Durant said Sunday when asked if he thinks he’s snapping out of this mini-slump. “The Utah game (23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but 2-for-7 at halftime) was the same way. [Sunday's] game was the same way. I just got to stick with it. I think I have to be aggressive to start the game. If I do that it gets me in a rhythm a little bit earlier and I have to be able to make shots.”
Against the Mavs, Durant had 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting after three quarters. Then he took over in the fourth with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, doing damage with one-on-one brilliance by starting at the top of the circle and beating his man and double-teams.
“I thought at some point in the game he kind of got frustrated a little bit and it was good that he was able to turn it around and just work harder and get some baskets,” Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said of Durant. “That was great on him. He showed maturity on his part.”
As for Durant’s pursuit to become the first player to win four consecutive scoring titles since Michael Jordan won seven in a row from 1986-93, his two closest challengers, Carmelo Anthony (sore right knee) and Kobe Bryant (sprained left ankle) are both holding steady, injured and out of action.
Durant leads the league at 28.3 ppg. Anthony, who is unlikely to play for a third consecutive game tonight at Utah, is second at 27.5. Bryant, who missed his first full game of the season on Sunday and isn’t expected to play tonight at Phoenix, is at 27.1. LeBron James (26.5) and Durant’s former teammate James Harden (26.3) are playing, but each would need a monumental closing kick to catch Durant, who despite his scoring slowdown, has still topped 30 points three times in 10 games this month.
And he showed once again Sunday night at Dallas that just because his first three quarters don’t go great, there’s always the final 12 minutes to get it right.
“The fourth quarter, coach [Scott Brooks] always tell me it’s my time,” Durant said. “I just have to come through.”