PHOENIX — There may be some debate as to who is the best player in the game, but there can be no debate as to who is the best player in the Western Conference.
It’s Kevin Durant. And he’ll be in town Thursday.
“Obviously Durant is a handful,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said.
That’s putting it mildly.
Durant is the number one scoring threat in the league (31.7 points per game) on the number-one team in the West (Oklahoma City, 46-15).
He has nine 40-point games this season or eight more than the entire Suns team.
He has 26 30-point games this season or 16 more than the entire Suns team.
“You just hope he doesn’t go for 40 or 45 on you,” Hornacek said. “If you can keep him in the 28-30 range…then you feel okay.”
Given that criteria, the Suns must have felt somewhat okay with how they handled Durant in the first meeting. He scored 33 points (10-of-19 from the field, including 2-of-5 three-point shots plus 11-of-13 free throws), 10 though in the fourth quarter in which the Suns were outscored 36-26 and lost 103-96 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in what was the third game of the season.
“He’s probably leading the MVP race right now, so just try to contain him,” PJ Tucker said. “Try not to let everybody else on their team beat you, I guess, because he’s rolling right now.”
Durant, coming off a 42-point performance against Philadelphia, the fourth time in the past nine games he’s hit the 40-point mark, will be Tucker’s responsibility on Thursday; just as he was several years ago at the University of Texas.
It was Tucker, then a senior, who hosted Durant on his recruiting trip to Austin. Durant committed and the two have remained friends ever since.
“It’s cool always playing against your friends because you always want to get one-up on them, but he’s one of the best players in the league so I naturally get up for those,” Tucker said.
The Suns (35-25) have lost four of six, while giving up a combined 52.4 percent shooting.
The Thunder, meanwhile, have won three in a row. They are the third-best shooting (47.6) and fifth-best scoring (105.4) team in the league.
So what would Tucker consider a successful night defensively against Durant, who is on track to become the first player since Michael Jordan (1991-92) to average 30 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field?
“Winning. That’s all that matters,” Tucker said. “He can have 80, but if we win, I won.”