EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - When the Nets squeaked past the Thunder a month ago, they limited Oklahoma City's high-octane attack to 34 second-half points.
Here's how good Kevin Durant has been since that night: The man has netted 34 or more points eight times in his last 15 games. He's ripped off no fewer than 32 points in each of his last five outings.
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The way Durant and the Thunder (37-10) have looked lately -- Oklahoma City has won nine straight and throttled the Heat Wednesday night after trailing big early -- it's almost easy to forget they're doing it without Russell Westbrook as he recovers from right knee surgery for a third time.
We're talking MVP-type of stuff out of Durant, who's tossing in 36.6 points a game this month. Game-winners. Hot streaks. Everything.
"Unreal," Deron Williams said Thursday. "He's playing at the highest level. I think since Russell's went down, he's just took it upon himself that much more to be there every night, and be a force to be reckoned with. The way he's playing right now is unreal."
Joe Johnson said: "He's in a pretty good rhythm. He has the ultra green light and he's basically shooting from anywhere on the court."
Keeping tabs on Durant will be even tougher for the Nets (20-23) if Andrei Kirilenko can't go, possibly leaving them with one less defender to lock horns with the 6-9 superstar. Kirilenko missed a second straight practice and is listed as a game-time decision after yesterday's MRI came back negative.
In their meeting at Oklahoma City on Jan. 2, a win the Nets point to as the night their season turned around, Durant had 25 points, but only nine in the second half on seven shots. Shaun Livingston frustrated the league's leading scorer at times, and the Nets are going to have to use swarming schemes again.
"That's what you've got to try to do," said Williams, who's expected to come off the bench again Friday night. "But right now, he's just . . . It doesn't really matter what look you give him. It seems like he's going to get his numbers. We are going to try to slow him down as much as possible."
"I watched the game [Wednesday night] against the Heat," Andray Blatche said. "He's on fire. He's easily the best scorer in the league, the best scorer who I've ever seen, and the best scorer I've ever played against. Whoever guards him, we've all got our hands full. It's not going to be one person guarding him. It's going to be all of us."
Johnson an All-Star. Johnson was selected as an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve last night. It's the seventh time Johnson, who's averaging 15.9 points a game, has been named to the All-Star team.