Kevin Durant is going to be a very good player for a long time.
Durant is built for the quick passing game of the modern NBA, and his height allows him to be an imposing presence on the boards. KD is second in the NBA in scoring behind Lebron James, and his age (21) suggests that he has room to improve.
That’s where Carmelo Anthony comes in.
Melo is becoming Kevin’s go-to rival in a Northwest Division that lacks any other talents of Durant’s caliber. (Especially at the Small Forward position.) The two have traded blows on the court all season, and Carmelo’s beat-down of the young man in Denver was an important development.
Kevin had outplayed Carmelo in two previous matchups, and Anthony knew he needed a big game against the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder.
Carmelo (30 pts, 8 rebs, 2 stl, 1 blk) came out shooting hot. He finished with a third quarter that saw a more complete Melo come up with a series of big steals, assists, and no-doubter shots. The Nuggets rotated toward Durant with their big, physical frontcourt all night. Kevin is best on the move, and Denver forced him to post-up or pass.
Durant (19 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast) couldn’t hang. The Nuggets blew out the Thunder 119-90 in a game where they lead by 40.
Carmelo has been in the NBA long enough (6.5 years) to have seen his share of blowout losses. It takes plenty to develop a Champion. As defenses focus more and more on Durant (2.5 years) this season, so too did they focus on Anthony in the past.
For his part, Carmelo has learned to take the bad losses and get up for the big games. He has also learned to shut down a streaking young player with a crushing home-court defensive presence. In a season where the Nuggets are looking for nothing less than a run to the NBA Championship, Melo had to put his size 15 foot down with a rising contender coming to town.
For now, Kevin will have to take his lumps. Durant is a young man on a young team trying to challenge the big dogs in a stacked conference. Despite being slotted in as the 6th playoff team in the West, OKC is a feeble 15-22 against .500 or better teams. Durant has carried his team to an impressive overall record, but he and the Thunder are not playoff-ready. Like Melo in Denver, Kevin will need to round out his game… and find ways to make his teammates better on both sides of the court.
Durant will be back, and he will adapt.
More than that, he will continue to challenge Carmelo to shoot-outs. The Thunder’s defense simply cannot contain the Nuggets when the Denver offense is flowing well. But just as Denver improved over the last few years to contend with the smart, diverse offenses of San Antonio & Los Angeles, the Thunder will need to toughen up to compete with the physical Nuggets.
If Durant and OKC can fill out their D, they will be a tough out for Denver. Every game played by these divisional rivals deepens the ties between a peaking power and a growing threat. Kevin Durant vs Carmelo Anthony is a story that is just beginning.
As fate would have it, the Nuggets sit at 3rd in the West. If the playoffs started today, the first stop on the Thunder’s first postseason trip since moving to OKC from Seattle would be Denver’s Pepsi Center.