AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Kevin Durant is learning how to regain his Most Valuable Player form in a limited amount of playing time.
The NBA’s reigning MVP pumped in 28 points in his third game back from a broken right foot, and the Oklahoma City Thunder handed the Detroit Pistons their 12th consecutive loss, 96-94 on Sunday at The Palace.
Durant, who played just 29 minutes, bounced back from a 10-point performance at Philadelphia on Friday, his lowest output since April 2009. Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks, who recorded his 300th coaching victory, is trying to ease Durant back from the injury by monitoring his playing time.
“Last game, I approached the game trying to feel it out instead of just playing,” Durant said. “Now, I just try to play carefree, smart basketball with the minutes that I have. Whatever Coach needs me to do as far as coming in and out of the game, I’ve got to do it and not worry about when I’m coming out.”
Durant has played 30 minutes or fewer in each game since his return, including a 27-point outing against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday in his season debut.
“I’ve got to be fully engaged to get lost in the game,” he said. “I’m usually like that, so I’ve got to continue to do it no matter how many minutes I play.”
Point guard Russell Westbrook supplied 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder (7-13), who won for the fourth time in five games. Power forward Serge Ibaka contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds, and reserve guard Jeremy Lamb added 12 points.
Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Detroit (3-18) with 19 points, and he also had five assists. Center Andre Drummond had 16 points and nine rebounds, while forwards Josh Smith and Greg Monroe added 12 points each. Smith missed a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining, ensuring the Pistons of their longest losing streak since they dropped 13 in a row during the 2009-10 season.
The Pistons tried to score in transition on their final possession, with point guard Brandon Jennings kicking the ball out to Smith, a poor perimeter shooter.
“I saw an advantage, so I told them ‘go’ rather than have (the Grizzlies) set their defense,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “At the time, it seemed like a heck of a decision to me, and I did think we had an advantage. It didn’t work, and this is a bottom-line business, so it was the wrong decision.”
Detroit lost for the ninth straight time at home, with its last win at The Palace coming against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 7. The Pistons’ last victory of any kind was a 96-89 overtime triumph at Oklahoma City on Nov. 14.
Durant capped a 9-0 Thunder run late in the third with a jumper, and his two free throws in the closing seconds of the quarter gave the visitors a 77-75 edge.
The Pistons went scoreless for the first 4:34 of the fourth while Oklahoma City stretched its lead to nine with the aid of a Lamb 3-pointer.
“In terms of the way we played overall, it was a big step forward,” Van Gundy said. “It’s probably the best game we’ve played this year given the quality of the opponent. But we had, let’s say conservatively, an eight-minute stretch where we walked around on offense and didn’t defend and didn’t rebound. We don’t have enough margin for error to play 36, 38 or 40 minutes.”
A three-point play by Durant made it 93-86 with 4:30 left, but the Pistons fought back. When Detroit forward Kyle Singler hit a 3-pointer, Oklahoma City’s lead was down to one. Durant finally answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Drummond cut it to two with a dunk before Smith’s failed 3-point try.
NOTES: Oklahoma City’s six free-throw attempts and one free throw made in the teams’ first meeting remain league lows for the season. … Thunder PG Russell Westbrook was averaging 16.5 points in 11 career games against Detroit before Sunday, his third-lowest average against any opponent. Charlotte (16.2 ppg) and the Los Angeles Clippers (16.4) are the only teams that hold him to a lower average. … The Pistons shot below 40 percent in their previous four games. They finished at 44.7 percent Sunday. … Detroit F Josh Smith averaged 16.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the previous four games. … The only other time the Pistons had fewer than five victories after 21 games was in 2011-12, when they were 4-17. … The Thunder’s average of 92.3 points per game ranked No. 29 in the league through Saturday, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers (92.0).
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