PHOENIX — Gregg Popovich credited him for making his teammates more confident.
Kevin McHale hailed him for his consistency.
Russell Westbrook simply said he can do this in his sleep.
Kevin Durant’s scoring streak has the league buzzing and is now the biggest storyline of the Thunder’s season.
Durant on Friday at Houston tied Michael Jordan for the most consecutive games of at least 25 points in the last 50 years. With another 25-point night Sunday at Phoenix, Durant can move into sole possession of third on the all-time list with 41.
Wilt Chamberlain owns the single-season record with 80. Oscar Robertson is second with 46.
So what does it all mean?
For starters, Durant’s streak is mostly a mark of magnificent consistency, a skill many coaches say is the hardest thing to have at the pro level.
“As a really good player, you’re going to have some stinkers. Everybody does,” said McHale, the Houston Rockets coach. “You have five, six, seven of those. But you have those 10 to 20 extraordinary games, the 40-plus games. He’s had probably 12, 14, 15 of them. That’s what sets you apart from everybody else.”
The last time Durant failed to post 25 points was on Jan. 5. It came in a 23-point home when over Boston. Durant was needed for only 27 minutes in the eventual blowout. He finished with 21 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
Since then, Durant has averaged 34.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists. He’s connected on 51.7 percent of his attempts from the field and 40.2 percent of his 3-point tries.
The Thunder is 27-13 over that span, which included a 10-game winning streak.
“He’s a great player, and if anybody’s ever seen him play you shouldn’t be surprised,” said Popovich, the Spurs coach. “He’s something else.”
Popovich said Durant’s scoring should make the Thunder “feel pretty confident” each night. With a weapon like Durant, the Thunder has a nightly threat that at this point is virtually guaranteed to reach 25 points.
“Last time I looked he was averaging 32,” McHale said. “That’s a guaranteed 32 then.”
Durant has downplayed the streak and gone as far as to say he doesn’t care much for it. He’s called it “cool” to be frequently mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan and said he could get used to that. But Durant also has repeatedly said he wants to be in Jordan’s company regarding a different conversation.
“Jordan has done way more than just score 25 points in however many games,” Durant said. “He’s a champion, an MVP, a Finals MVP. He’s done it all. So I’d rather be in that conversation with him. But it’s definitely an honor to be in the same sentence as Michael Jordan. I never want to take that for granted. But I’ve got bigger goals in mind.”
Still, teammates are rooting for Durant to continue the streak. They might be enjoying it more than him.
“It’d be a great feat for Kevin Durant to take that down and surpass (Jordan) on the 25-plus point game streak,” said Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. “But he goes out there and he finds a way to get to the line. And he makes it look easy the way he’s knocking in shots the way he does. He’s, I think, the best scorer in the league…So you really don’t have to do too much to try to keep the streak alive for him. Just keep doing what we’re doing. We have plays dictated for him. He kind of does the rest.”
Ease and efficiency have become unexpected hallmarks for Durant despite his current streak. The way he’s produced his points has been as impressive as the streak itself. He hasn’t forced shots. He hasn’t made scoring his sole focus. Instead, he’s made it a point to continue to play the right way and make the proper pass to open teammates if that’s what the game calls for.
“We don’t look at it and say we have to get him 25,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We just play the game, and if he ends up with over 25 great … But Kevin is as humble as any superstar I’ve ever been around. He’s just going into every day looking to win the game.”
Westbrook, however, said the streak has swelled into such a significant number that it’s become impossible to ignore.
“That’s a lot of games to be scoring 25 points in a row,” he said. “You can’t just not think about that. That’s an unbelievable stat. I think he may finish the season out doing that. I mean, he does that in his sleep.”