The budding rivalry between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat appears to be born out of a mutual respect.
Kevin Durant, before squaring off against Miami in the second and final regular season meeting between the two teams Thursday night, expressed his for LeBron James and the Heat.
“I love playing him. I love it. I love it,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “They bring the best out of everybody. They're a great team. They're a really well-coached team. They play well together, and they won a championship.”
Durant's sentiments stemmed from a question about whether the Thunder-Heat matchup is indeed bubbling up to the point of becoming a rivalry. The reigning three-time scoring champ said last year's Finals series helped fuel that notion. He added that his admiration for James and fellow star Dwyane Wade is what further drives him against the Heat.
“I like playing against them,” Durant said. “I like playing against LeBron. I like going at him every chance I can. I like going at D. Wade every chance I can, just because I respect those guys so much and I look up to them. People tend to forget that I'm four years younger than those guys. They've been in the league 10 years. I've been in for five. So I just look up to those guys. I really respect them, and to show my respect I go out there and do what I do.”
JAZZ PLAYER CALLS DURANT'S FOUL A DIRTY PLAY
After receiving his first career flagrant foul late in Tuesday's game, Durant's hip-check on Utah guard Alec Burks was deemed a dirty play by Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll.
Immediately after Durant's foul on Burks, Carroll approached Durant, wrapped an arm around Durant's waist and said a few words. Durant promptly shoved Carroll away with a forearm. The two were called for a double technical foul.
“I just told him, ‘Don't be playing dirty out here,'” Carroll told reporters after the game. “If you're going to play dirty, play dirty in the park. We're not going to be playing dirty out here.”
When asked about Carroll's statements after the game, Durant said he didn't do anything the Jazz wouldn't have done.
“It's part of the game,” Durant said. “I'm not a dirty player or anything like that. It's just a part of the game. I'm sure they would have did the same thing to me.”
REGGIE JACKSON ROLLING
Reserve guard Reggie Jackson appears to be finding his rhythm.
The second-year backup to Russell Westbrook has been rock steady over his past seven games, averaging 7.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 turnovers, 0.9 steals and 51.4 percent shooting from the field in 17.6 minutes.
In Tuesday's loss at Utah, Jackson seemed to play with as much confidence as he has all season, attacking the basket with regularity while also creating shots for teammates. He finished a career-high-tying 12 points for the second time in four games and added three rebounds and two assists.
“I think Reggie's been playing good,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's in a position that we need him to play good basketball, solid basketball, and he was good (Tuesday) night.”
By Darnell Mayberry