- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- With the NBA season heading down the stretch and the MVP race seemingly a two-name toss-up between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant could put up even bigger point totals if he chose.
"Let's face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he's scoring now, he really could do that," Brooks said before the Thunder played the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. "His assist level has gone up, he impacts the game. Defensively, he impacts the game. He can guard 1 through 5. So a lot of things that he does [are] all about the team."
Durant entered Sunday's game averaging a career-high 31.8 points, but his 5.5 assists per game are also a career best for the seven-year veteran.
On Sunday, he had a triple-double through three quarters and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in the Thunder's 114-110 loss to the Lakers.
While Durant leads the league with 10 games of 40 or more points, Brooks said the rangy forward really stood out with his all-around game while Russell Westbrook was sidelined with a knee injury for two months.
"When he was out, [Durant] definitely had to continue to lead us," Brooks said. "Not only on the court, but off the court. Just from the emotional standpoint of losing Russell, he had to wrap that type of stress around his game and continue to work our way as a team through that. It's not easy losing players, [especially] a dynamic player like Russell. But Kevin came in and led us.
"He improved his defense and his playmaking, the ball was in his hands and the decisions were more so in his hands, and he did a good job with that. With adding Russell now, it gives us two dynamic players, and that's better. That's better for us because you can't load up on one. The thing about KD, he knows that he has the ability to impact the game on both ends, and he does it every night. The consistency level that he has, it's remarkable that he's so consistent every night."
Westbrook returned to the lineup after the All-Star break and averaged 21 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 48.4 percent shooting from 3-point range in his first seven games.
"He's definitely all the way back," Brooks said. "It's just the conditioning. I think that's almost there. It's been a couple weeks now. A lot of times when you miss a big portion of the season -- the 30 games he's missed -- the conditioning is obviously not going to be up to par. But he's back. He's definitely back."
Brooks said he knows the Durant-James talk will continue the rest of the season, especially on days like Sunday, when the Thunder followed James' Miami Heat on ABC's national broadcast.
"I look at every team, every game," Brooks said. "I follow box scores, I follow players. But I don't look at it that way. They're two great players. They both are amazing teammates and great players. They're going to be in that [MVP] talk for the next 10 years probably.
"I know it's great coverage, it's great storylines, but Kevin is really focused on helping us win games."
And if Durant did take home the award for the first time in his career, denying James his fifth MVP?
"It's something that if you get, it's great, but it's not on Kevin's thoughts every day," Brooks said. "There's no question, basketball players, you love the opportunity to get the MVP. The thing I love about Kevin -- he's about winning. He's about winning over individual awards. And he's been consistent. He's had MVP years like three years in a row now, and the thing I love about him, he comes back a little bit better. That's hard to do.
"Two years [ago], it was hard to come back better than he did last year. Then this year, he was better. And he's better also with different situations and some injuries that we had to play through, and he's done a great job of leading us. His numbers speak for themselves."