The Washington Post

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Paul George push each other to get better in post-practice battles

James Harden, right, and Kevin Durant get after it during a practice session in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — If the NBA was creative enough and the superstars were willing (the biggest “if” of the two), the event that could help revitalize all-star Saturday night was on display at the conclusion of the last two Team USA practices in Las Vegas. Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden forced their USA teammates, coaches, reporters and other observers to stick around a little longer for some intense and highly entertaining games of “King of the Hill.”

After Thursday’s light practice, Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal grabbed seats along the sideline, while others line up along the wall or stood on the other side of the court, to watch a copious amounts of step back jumpers, driving layups and savvy gamesmanship in a three-way game on one-on-one featuring three of the game’s best perimeter scorers. In “King of the Hill,” a player stays on the floor if he scores and a defender gets the ball if he gets a stop. The rotation continues until a player gets five points. With three prideful players who hate losing, the games went on a little longer than usual.

“That’s how we all started playing, just going one-on-one,” Durant said. “It’s fun, just getting to know Paul. Of course, I know James. But just competing against them. You know, we’re competitive, these last two days of playing one-on-one is just getting us all better. We respect each other a lot. There is a mutual respect for all of our games. As young guys coming up, we’re all in the same age [group] and just trying to get better. Strive to be the greatest. All of us have that goal in our heads and playing against each other only helps us.”

Durant and Harden, former teammates in Oklahoma City and on the 2012 Olympic gold medal team, are accustomed to going at each other and understand each other’s tendencies. They can also talk smack without it getting personal. Harden, who doesn’t have much of a reputation as a defender, caught Durant to block a seemingly unblockable layup attempt and get in his face to tell him about. Durant just called for the ball as they got ready to go at it again.

“It’s rare that you get this opportunity,” Harden said. “It’s all friendly, one-on-one. We’re trying to make each other better and at the end of the day, we’re friends.”

George doesn’t have any international experience but the two-time all-star is a lock to make the team and is expected to start alongside Durant. In his desire to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA, George couldn’t ask for a better training ground than going up against two vastly different but equally lethal scoring machines.

“James, he’s shifty. He’s good with his feet and creating opportunities off him using his speed. And KD has length. He knows how to uses his length to be effective and get space. You can’t get to his shot once he gets space,” George said, comparing the challenges in guarding each player. “We’re all great defenders and we probably won’t get a better defender to go at than those three guys, so that’s really improving our games. We all love the game of basketball.”

The one-on-one battles will take a break for another week with USA Basketball’s time in Las Vegas wrapping up with Friday’s showcase at Thomas & Mack Center. But they will likely pick back up when training camp resumes in Chicago on Aug. 14.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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Michael Lee · August 1, 2014