Kevin Durant didn’t grow up rooting for his hometown Washington Wizards/Bullets as a kid. His favorite team was the Toronto Raptors, who featured his favorite player, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady.
So, Durant doesn’t have a particular soft spot when he plays the Wizards and certainly doesn’t enjoy the fact that his Oklahoma City Thunder has lost two straight to the lottery-bound Wizards. The Thunder has only lost four games against teams with records below .500 and the first came on Jan. 7, when Bradley Beal made the decisive jumper in a 101-99 victory – the last game before John Wall made his season debut.
“We only play them twice, so we want to end on a good note,” Durant said as the Thunder prepares to host the Wizards on Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “Especially since I’m from DC, I want to beat the hometown team. Hopefully, we can get it done. They outplayed us last time, did some things better than we did. We learned from it.”
The Wizards (26-44) are 14-15 against Western Conference teams this season and will have a chance to finish with a .500 or better record against the conference for the first time in nine years. They went 17-13 against the West in 2003-04. This season, the Wizards have had their most success against the Northwest Division, going 6-3 with sweeps of the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Thunder hasn’t defeated the Wizards since March, 14, 2011 – Wall’s rookie year – after losing in their only game last season. “That’s the crazy part. We only had them once last year,” Durant said. “We got another chance tonight.”
Wall missed out on the first meeting since he had just begun practicing after missing more than three months with a stress injury in his left knee. This time around, the Wizards won’t have Beal or A.J. Price, while Nene, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster are game-time decision.
The Wizards have gone 21-16 since Wall returned and the former No. 1 overall pick is coming off a career-high 47-point effort in a win over Memphis. Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said he wants to make sure that Wall doesn’t have another 40-point game ready for the game.
“Yeah,” Westbrook said. “For sure.”
Westbrook is 2-1 in his career against Wall but said he no longer gets caught up individual matchups against point guards. “When you’re younger, you’re trying to find your way and trying to find your swagger in this league,” Westbrook said. “You’ve got to come out every night and compete, and that’s how I thought I could find my way and build an image in this league… All I worry about is if we win. If we win, whatever matchup you say is a matchup, that’s who won it.”
Wall is still seeking to reach Westbrook’s level in the league, with led him to workout with Westbrook’s trainer, Rob McClanaghan, last summer. Thunder Coach Scott Brooks mentioned how much the Wizards have improved since Wall returned to the lineup.
“John Wall, he makes that team go. He’s talented. He’s a talented point guard who is going to continue to improve. It seems that he works hard and is a guy who appears to the love the game,” Brooks said. “They’re a much better team. Their record is 21-16 with him in the lineup. He can change the game by his energy, by his ability to get to the paint, get to the basket. They have some good pieces. Hopefully they don’t play well tonight.”
Brooks added that his players don’t want to get swept by Washington. “There’s always, as a competitive team the group that we have in their heart, you always want to play better and do better when you face that team,” said Brooks. “I still have nightmares over Modesto High beating us five times my senior year. I wish I could play them one more time.”
Durant was upset about how the Thunder approached their meeting against the Wizards and doesn’t want a repeat effort. “We supposed to do that with every team, not play their record. I think through that last one, we coasted through the game. We were up 10, 11 points and we got too comfortable. We learned since then, we get a lead like that, we’ve got to step on them. We know John Wall is coming off a career game and will try to do the same tonight. We know we got a challenge and I know Russ is looking forward to it. I hope we get a win.”