Durant and Harden look to lead the Northwest Division-best Thunder to a sixth win in seven games Sunday when they open a three-game trip against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.
Harden, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, is proving that he’s up to the challenge.
In eight games since the trade, Harden is shooting 50.0 percent and averaging 17.8 point - 7.2 more than he was averaging beforehand. He has hit the 20-point mark three times in the last eight, including a 22-point performance in Friday’s 104-94 win over Detroit, after reaching 20 in only three of his previous 56 games.
Harden is still coming off the bench, but is becoming more involved in the offense. He has attempted at least 10 field goals in each game since the trade after putting up that many shots 13 times previously.
“Losing Jeff, you lose 15 points, you lose more rebounds, just more playmaking ability,” Harden said. “I had to step my game up and just help the team.”
After losing their first two games following the trade, the Thunder have won five of six.
Durant, who averages a league-best 28.1 points, says that Harden has helped key the turnaround.
“We look for him,” Durant said. “When he comes off that bench, we look for him. He’s one of our main options on the offensive end. He’s a great scorer.”
The Cavaliers (12-52) already got a taste of Harden’s scoring exploits earlier this season. Harden had 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the Thunder’s 106-77 win over Cleveland on Dec. 12.
Durant, per usual, led the way with 25 points in just 30 minutes as Oklahoma City snapped a four-game losing streak to the Cavaliers. The Thunder franchise hasn’t swept the two-game season series since 2004-05, when it played in Seattle.
While Oklahoma City had no trouble offensively in the first meeting, shooting 53.2 percent, the Cavs shot just 33.8 percent, their third-lowest mark of the season.
Cleveland hasn’t been much better offensively lately, averaging 85.3 points on 39.7 percent shooting during a three-game losing streak.
The Cavs were without Baron Davis(notes) in Wednesday’s 110-90 loss to Milwaukee because of the death of his grandmother. There is no specific date for Davis, who is averaging 18.0 points in three games since being traded to Cleveland, to rejoin the team.
Following the loss to Bucks, the Cavs met for 15-20 minutes before opening the locker room to reporters.
“Pretty much all the coaches talked and I had a couple of players talk, and that was the biggest thing, consistency and trust,” coach Byron Scott said. “I don’t think the guys truly trust each other out there, for whatever reason. They’ve been together 60-plus games and obviously the consistency is something we’ve been lacking for a while.”