Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant and Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson are friends who grew up together on the AAU circuit and were teammates their junior seasons at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
“We've been through a lot together,” Lawson said.
On March 1, roughly 10 hours after Lawson spoke those words, that friendship went through a little bit more when Lawson buried a 22-footer with 0.2 seconds left to give the Nuggets a 105-103 victory over the Thunder at Pepsi Center in Denver.
“After the game, I told him that was a good shot. I told him it was a lucky shot,” Durant said jokingly. “But he came through big for their team. Ty has been having a phenomenal season.”
The Nuggets (46-22) haven't lost since Feb. 22 and bring a 12-game win streak into Chesapeake Energy Arena for a 7 p.m. contest Tuesday against the Thunder (50-17), which has gone 8-1 since Lawson's heroics.
Denver is completing a back-to-back, having won 119-118 in overtime at Chicago on Monday night.
“Hopefully he's a little tired after their game in Chicago before they come to us,” Durant said, “but I know it's going to be a tough, tough test for us and hopefully we pass.”
The 5-foot-11 Lawson had converted just 4 of 13 shots from the field before taking the game-winner over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-7 defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha the last time these teams met.
As Lawson celebrated with a body shimmy at midcourt, Durant looked up at the scoreboard during OKC's final timeout to verify the time and score. The NBA's reigning three-time scoring champ had been beaten by his buddy, but such wasn't the case when they battled as high school seniors seven years earlier.
On March 4, 2006, national prep powerhouses Montrose Christian (19-2) and Oak Hill Academy (40-0) played before a crowd of 4,000 at Coolidge High in Washington, D.C. It has since been regarded as the greatest high school game played in the D.C. area since Lew Alcindor's Power Memorial team faced Morgan Wootten-coached DeMatha before a capacity crowd of 14,500 at Maryland's Cole Field House in 1965.
Durant had transferred from Oak Hill to Montrose Christian, where he was teammates with Greivis Vasquez of the New Orleans Hornets. Lawson was still at Oak Hill, where he teamed with Michael Beasley of the Phoenix Suns.
Montrose Christian upset Oak Hill, 74-72, ending the Warriors' 56-game winning streak and knocking them from the No. 1 ranking in USA Today. The game-winner came from future Maryland forward Adrian Bowie on a putback off a Durant miss as time expired, which completed a 16-point comeback in the final quarter from the Mustangs. Durant finished with a game-high 31 points, while Lawson finished with 26 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
In those days, Durant was being compared to Carmelo Anthony, the man he is battling for this year's NBA scoring title.
Lawson went by the name Tywon Lawson. He was a North Carolina signee and was projected to be the Tar Heels' best point guard since Phil Ford.
Durant played at Texas for one season, became national player of the year as a freshman and was selected No. 2 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics.
Lawson played three seasons at UNC, entered the 2009 draft and was selected No. 18 overall by Minnesota. The Timberwolves had an abundance of point guards and essentially gift-wrapped Lawson to the Nuggets for a 2010 first-round pick who wound up being Nevada forward Luke Babbitt, now with Portland.
Like several players from the D.C. area, Durant and Lawson have retained their elite status as NBA players (see chart).
“From AAU trips to Oak Hill trips, we've been through a lot,” Lawson said. “Definitely in college we talked a lot. He's the one I've probably played basketball with the most coming up from middle school to high school, so it's definitely fun to see where he's at now and see where we're both at.”
A mutual respect remains between Lawson and Durant, who seems to befriend just about every player he's ever met.
“Ty's like my best friend,” Durant said. “That's my guy. I've known him forever. Every trip we went on the road in the summertime we were roommates. We were roommates everywhere.”
Durant's steady improvement as a player has come as no surprise to Lawson, who like many in the NBA insists Durant is taller than his listed height of 6-foot-9.
“In high school, he was a 6-11 shooter and he could dribble.” Lawson recalled. “I was like, ‘Man, it's going to be scary once he puts weight on and gets a post-up game.' That was my junior year. My senior year, he had post-up game. I think his first 15 points were off the post when we played him. I was thinking, ‘Man, he going to be scary good, one of the top players in the league.' He's showing that now.”
Lawson has even bought into Nike's “KD IS NOT NICE” promotion.
“KD has grown a lot,” Lawson said. “He does have a mean streak now. Back when he was younger, he'd get bumped and he wouldn't say too much. Now, he has a mean streak. That comes with him growing up and becoming a leader. The greats also had a mean streak, like MJ (Michael Jordan), Kobe (Bryant) and everybody like that. It's good that he's getting that.”
Last October, Lawson agreed to a four-year, $48-million contract extension with Denver that begins next season. Durant is in the second season of a five-year maximum deal that will pay him roughly $94 million through 2015-16.
“I'm happy that he signed his deal, I'm happy that he's playing well in Denver and he's always going to remain a friend,” Durant said.
Even with 0.2 left on the clock.
Thunder vs. Nuggets
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena.
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 679, Dish, U-Verse 754/HD 1754).
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.
Three things to know
* This is the fourth and final meeting between the Thunder and Nuggets. Oklahoma City is 1-2 against Denver.
* OKC and Denver rank first and third, respectively, in points per game. The Thunder averages a league-leading 106.7 points. The Nuggets average 105.8 points.
* Denver had won 11 straight games prior to Monday's game against Chicago.
Washington, D.C. area players currently in the NBA (14)
Michael Beasley (Riverdale Baptist/Phoenix Suns)
Keith Bogans (DeMatha/Brooklyn Nets)
Dante Cunningham (St. John's-Potomac/Minnesota Timberwolves)
Kevin Durant (Montrose Christian/OKC Thunder)
Rudy Gay (Spalding/Toronto Raptors)
Jeff Green (Northwestern/Boston Celtics)
Roy Hibbert (Georgetown Prep/Indiana Pacers)
Grant Hill (South Lakes/LA Clippers)
Linas Kleiza (Montrose Christian/Toronto Raptors)
Ty Lawson (McNamara/Denver Nuggets)
Kendall Marshall (O'Connell/Phoenix Suns)
Roger Mason Jr. (Sidwell Friends-Good Counsel/New Orleans Hornets)
Greivis Vasquez (Montrose Christian/New Orleans Hornets)
Sam Young (Friendly/Indiana Pacers)
Source — Washington Post