The NBA playoffs tip off Saturday and the hype has already begun over a potential matchup of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, should each team reach the finals as expected.
But before Bryant and the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers get that far, they’ll have to get through a Western Conference first round match up against the No. 8 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, featuring Washington, D.C. native Kevin Durant.
Durant recently made NBA history as the youngest player to capture the regular season scoring title with a league-best 30.1 points per game at age 21.
“It’s something I really wasn’t coming into the year saying I wanted to get but it feels good to be a part of history and something I’m going to always remember,” Durant said. “It feels even better to get 50 wins .”
It wasn’t easy for a 21-year-old, second-year player to outscore stars including James, Bryant and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony. But it might be even tougher for him and the Thunder to advance out of the first round against the defending champion Lakers, especially with a little drama stirred up heading into the matchup series.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson recently suggested to reporters that Durant gets preferential treatment from game officials “by the calls he gets, he really gets to the line a lot, I’ll tell ya,” Jackson said, according to The Oklahoman.
Durant took offense, “because it’s taking away from what I do,” Durant told The Oklahoman. “That’s a part of my game, getting to the free-throw line and being aggressive. If you say that I get superstar calls or I get babied by the refs, that’s just taking away from how I play. That’s disrespectful to me.”
Durant told reporters he doesn’t disrespect anybody in the league, and only wants the same respect.
“I respect every coach, every player, everybody,” Durant said. “I never say anything bad about anybody else or question why they do this or do that. So for them to say that about me, I don’t even want to use no foul language.”
Jackson has a reputation for using psychological tactics to either motivate his own players or emotionally disrupt opponents, so this may be just another mind-trick up his sleeve. Some basketball analysts Jackson’s comments may also be a ploy to encourage the referees to make a few calls his way during the series, but Durant said he doesn’t think that will work.
“If the refs pay attention to that and change how they call things because of that, that’s terrible,” Durant said, according to reports. “That’s terrible to the game of basketball and to us. If that happens, then Scotty could talk, too. Or any other coach could talk, too, just so the refs could switch everything up. But I doubt they do that.”
This isn’t the first time, however, someone has suggested that Durant gets favorable calls from the ref. According to ESPN, Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett complained to the media following a 109-104 loss to the Thunder on March 31, claiming that playing against Durant was like facing “Michael Jordan.”
“Ever since KG said that, everybody’s been questioning how I get to the line,” Durant told reporters. “But if you watch our games, you wouldn’t question it. The NBA should put us on national TV more, I guess.”
Durant will get that chance, with national TV coverage starting Sunday at 3 p.m.