Dec 2, 2014 2:51 PM
Thunder's Durant makes season debut vs. Pelicans
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant is ready to return from a foot injury and will be in Oklahoma City's lineup for Tuesday night's game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced the update at the team's shoot around early Tuesday afternoon.
Durant, who averaged 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists last season, has missed his team's first 17 games with a fractured right foot, which was surgically repaired in mid-October.
"I'm just excited to get back out there with my teammates. It's been a long six-and-a-half weeks just trying to get better and get my foot right," Durant said following the Thunder's game-day shoot around. "I know it's going to be a little different for me not playing for six weeks and then going out there and playing at the highest level of basketball. So I'm looking forward to going out there and seeing where I am and playing as hard as I can for my team."
Brooks said Durant is now "100 percent ready" to play on his right foot, but that he'll likely be limited to around 30 minutes of action during his first few games to rebuild his conditioning.
"He's hit all the benchmarks that we've had in place during this process and the next step is to play games," Brooks said.
"We could be in some situations if we go into overtime, or double- or triple-overtime that he won't be there because you can't predict that that's going to happen," Brooks added, "Those are things we have to live with and we're willing to live with those."
Durant's return comes one game after star guard Russell Westbrook came back from a broken bone in right hand to help the Thunder win in New York last Friday night.
Durant played in two preseason games before complaining of an ache in his foot after a practice. He had surgery on Oct. 16, and the team said it would be re-evaluate the foot in six weeks. Nearly seven weeks later, he will return to a team that entered the day at 5-12, eight games behind Portland in the Northwest Division and just a half-game out of the cellar.
"I know we have some games to make up, but we're not thinking about the games to make up," Brooks said. "We're thinking about the game tonight and then the next game."
It was the first extended absence of Durant's career. From his rookie season in 2007 to the start of this season, he led the league in points and minutes played. He had missed just 16 regular season games in his seven-year career, and never more than eight in a season.
His longest previous absence was a seven-game stretch during the 2008-09 season because of a sprained right ankle. He missed one game last season, one game the season before, played in all 82 games during the 2009-10 season and all 66 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
Last season, Durant won his fourth scoring title in five years. He had a run of 41 consecutive games with at least 25 points, the third-longest streak in NBA history. He was at his best while Westbrook was out following knee surgery from December through the All-Star break. Durant averaged 35 points and 6.3 assists as he led the team to 19 wins in 26 games.
Durant skipped playing for the U.S. national team in this summer's World Cup so he could get additional rest.
Westbrook, who was expected to pick up the slack in Durant's absence, broke a bone in his right hand in the second game of the season and missed 14 games. Without their top scorers, the Thunder lost several close games, despite ranking among the league leaders in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
"We played a different style, a different style than we've ever played here," Brooks said, referring to a slower, defense-oriented pace that limited overall possessions in a game. "Those are part of the growing experiences that we all have to go through."
With Durant and Westbrook back, Brooks said, "Obviously, we want to play a little faster now. Possessions are good for us."
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.