With Kevin Durant back in tow, the Oklahoma City Thunder are beginning to look like last year’s Western Conference finalists’ team. Durant came back to the hardwood on Tuesday, December 2nd when the Thunder visited the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were victorious that night, but Oklahoma City hasn’t lost since with six consecutive wins, getting the Thunder back to a respectable record and right back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
It’s an obvious observation, but Durant has profoundly impacted the Thunder since his return. Role players who were thrust into significantly more minutes than accustomed are now back to their natural roles. And with their other star – Russell Westbrook – the Thunder no longer need to scrounge for the 40-50 points that the duo typically puts up in a given night. The offense has scored more than 100 points in all but one of the seven games since Durant’s return, a number they eclipsed just four times on the first seventeen games of the season without him.
On offense, it’s clear just how impactful Duran’s return has been, but on the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma City has been much better as well. While they’ve surpassed 100 points in all but one game with Durant offensively, they’ve also allowed more than 100 points just twice time over the past seven games. That includes holding the Cleveland Cavaliers – one of the highest scoring teams in the league – to just 94 points in a 103-94 win last Thursday. Westbrook was the star of that game, scoring 26 points and adding 7 rebounds and 8 assists, but Durant was close behind, chipping in 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Nonetheless, that meeting with Cleveland was without the Cavaliers’s best player – LeBron James. LeBron’s absence was certainly felt, much as Durant’s was felt earlier in the season. The teams do meet in Cleveland on January 25th so the Thunder will get another crack at the Cavs, perhaps this time with LeBron.
Durant’s return also means OKC Thunder tickets have gone back up to their normal clip. The average price for Thunder tickets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena is $196 for the remainder of the season. The average ticket price was just $116 for the first eleven games of the season. That is a 69% increase in average price since Durant’s return to the court.
The Thunder have several big games taking place at home over the next few months, highlighted by a January 16th meeting with the Golden State Warriors who are currently on a sixteen game winning streak and are atop the Western Conference. If the season began today, the Thunder would not qualify for the playoffs, but they trail the Phoenix Suns who are currently in the 8th spot by just half a game. The Thunder took down Phoenix Sunday afternoon 112-88 and they’ll get another shot at them December 31st. With the way Durant is playing, chances are good it will be the Thunder in the 8th spot come New Year’s Eve and the Phoenix Suns trailing behind them.