Kevin Durant's return proves anticlimactic, Pelicans top Thunder

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have been waiting for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to take the court together since mid-October. The franchise, its fans and the larger basketball world finally got their wish on Tuesday night in New Orleans vs. Pelicans. However, it's possible that all that waiting set us all up for a bit of disappointment.

Durant followed up Westbrook's scintillating return to the court last Friday with a less dominating but still impressive output of his own. In 30 minutes, the NBA's reigning MVP scored a team-high 27 points on an efficient 9-of-18 shooting from the floor (plus 6 of 7 from the line). His first basket, a 3-pointer in transition, looked a lot like the ultra-smooth scorer we have come to know over his fantastic career:

However, if Durant was solid, his return seemed to prove that the Thunder will need some time to reintegrate him and Westbrook into their plans. While they mounted a late rally, the Thunder were out-played by the host Pelicans and fell by a score of 112-104. With a 5-13 record — 5 1/2 games behind the Phoenix Suns for the West's last playoff spot — OKC may need that process to proceed quite rapidly.

We should remember not to extrapolate the outcome of one game too far. For instance, the fact that Durant played well on paper without outright dominating play is not especially rare for him — he's a generationally exceptional scorer in part because he can score 35 points within the flow of the offense. For that matter, it shouldn't be shocking that Westbrook followed up his evisceration of the Knicks on Friday with a relatively poor line of 21 points on 6-of-20 shooting with seven turnovers. Westbrook can be a boom-bust player, and he's liable to follow this game up with an MVP-level performance on Friday vs. the Philadelphia Sixers, and not only because they are the worst team in the NBA.

At the same time, it seems clear the Thunder will not simply ascend back to the NBA's elite simply because they have their superstars back in the lineup. For one thing, the team's defense faltered Tuesday night, with Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson also scoring very well to pace the Pelicans. OKC didn't look horrendous — the Pelicans shot 44.3 percent as a team — but they allowed 45 free throws and might have lost by a much wider margin if not for 16 missed freebies.

Again, there's no reason for panic, because one iffy road game doesn't portend damnation over the final five months of the regular season. But the Thunder don't have that much time to allow their stars to settle — the West is just too good. The good news is that the hyper-competitive Durant and Westbrook don't wish to spend much time waiting to jell, either.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!