While Oklahoma City (21-54) and Indiana (32-44) finish out their disappointing campaigns, each has seen its best player enjoy strong seasons.
Granger has developed into an All-Star swingman, scoring 25.3 points per game to rank among the league leaders. He’s been even better lately, averaging 32.3 over the last four.
The Thunder’s struggles are a major reason why Durant has yet to become an All-Star, but he may be on his way to reaching that elite status soon. He’s just ahead of Granger in scoring, averaging 25.6 points.
Durant has shown considerable improvement from last season, when he earned Rookie of the Year honors. In addition to increasing his scoring and rebounding numbers, the swingman has shot the ball significantly better from long range, connecting on 42.4 percent of his 3-pointers after shooting only 28.8 percent in 2007-08.
The Pacers won the first meeting this season, 107-99 on Nov. 10 despite 37 points from Durant. Granger scored 20 while T.J. Ford was the catalyst for Indiana with 24 points and 10 assists.
The Thunder will be trying to keep Ford in check after being unable to contain another former Texas Longhorn in their last game. Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge had 35 points and 18 rebounds in a 107-72 win at Oklahoma City on Friday.
Durant matched his fourth-lowest scoring total of the season with 13 points as the Thunder shot 25.6 percent through three quarters and finished with their lowest total of the season.
The lone bright spot was Shaun Livingston, who went 5-for-6 and scored all 10 of his points in the second half in his Oklahoma City debut. Livingston spent the last two years recovering from a gruesome knee injury and was signed to a multiyear contract earlier this week.
“He’s a young kid that loves the game,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re going to work with him and he’s going to grow with us.”
Indiana failed to sweep its three-game homestand after falling 126-121 to San Antonio on Friday. Granger had 35 points for the Pacers, who scored 40 in the fourth quarter but saw their comeback fall short.
Although the Pacers have not been officially eliminated from playoff contention, coach Jim O’Brien admits he is looking to the future.
“We’re playing to get better, and if we have to play for pride, that’s not a bad thing to play for,” O’Brien said.
Troy Murphy registered his 45th double-double of the season with 19 points and 13 boards Friday. It’s the second-highest total in the Pacers’ NBA history and just two short of the team’s single-season record set by Clark Kellogg in 1982-83.
The Pacers have lost four straight road games against the Thunder franchise.