Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns will begin their journey towards a championship on Sunday, April 16. The first order of business for the Suns will be taking care of business against the Los Angeles Clippers and superstar Kawhi Leonard.
The showdown between the Clippers and Suns is becoming one of the most anticipated matchups in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. With Leonard and Durant facing each other, it presents an opportunity to see two of the top forwards in the game go toe-to-toe. Durant spoke about going up against Leonard again in the playoffs in a clip shared by Duane Rankin of azcentral.com. The Suns forward talked about how Leonard’s role has developed throughout his career in the NBA.
“I played against Kawhi when he was young coming into the league and he didn’t have this role that he has now of being a superstar.”
Durant went into detail about the development of Leonard throughout his career, stating that it’s been “cool” to watch but difficult to play against.
“It’s been cool to watch but tough to play against. It’s cool to watch and he’s somebody that brings it every time he steps on the floor. So, he ups the level of everybody around him.”
Kevin Durant on Clippers Star Kawhi Leonard: ‘Players Don’t Sleep on Him’
Phoenix comes into the opening round series against the Clippers as one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Despite being the fourth seed, the Suns have been considered the favorites to make it out of the Western Conference and secure a spot in the NBA finals.
But the Suns know that a sizeable task lies ahead of themselves in the opening round of the playoffs. The Clippers are expected to be without superstar forward Paul George to start the series. George has been sidelined since suffering a hyperextended knee on March 21 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In George’s absence, superstar Kawhi Leonard has stepped up with his performance on the court. Leonard averaged 24.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his last eight outings. During that same span, Kawhi shot 52.2% from the field and 42.2% from three-point range.
Durant has publicly praised the ability of Leonard, going back to their numerous battles in the postseason. The two superstars last faced off in the postseason during the 2019 NBA finals. Durant, then playing with the Golden State Warriors, would suffer an Achilles injury in Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors. Leonard and the Raptors would go on to win the championship in six games.
In a clip shared by Tomer Azarly, Durant was asked about how difficult it is going up against a player like Leonard during a 2019 radio interview on Ebro In The Morning. KD praised Kawhi, saying that “players don’t sleep on him,” and expressing that Leonard always has the longest scouting report to analyze.
“Players don’t [sleep on him]. We go through an in-depth scouting report before the games. He’s got the longest paragraph on the scouting report. He can pretty much do everything… You can’t dribble around him cuz he’s gonna steal the ball. You only limited to a few things when he guards you…It’s still tough for me to pull out all my s**t against Kawhi. And I got to play as hard as I can against him.”
Kevin Durant Motivated Ahead of Showdown Against Clippers
With one of the most talented starting lineups in the playoffs, Phoenix has an opportunity to make a serious push towards a championship. But questions have remained if the team had enough time to gel ahead of the grueling playoff grind.
Phoenix sent shockwaves throughout the NBA when they made the aggressive move to acquire Durant from the Brooklyn Nets at the trade deadline. It was a trade that signaled that the Suns organization was going “all-in” with the goal of bringing home a championship. After suffering an ankle injury in pregame warmups on March 8, Durant would play a total of eight games for the Suns during the 2022-23 season. In those eight games, Phoenix would post an 8-0 record.
In a clip shared by Duane Rankin of azcentral.com, Durant spoke about his preparation for the playoffs. KD admitted that he didn’t play enough this year for his standards. But emphasized that he’s excited to have fun and compete.
“Great opportunity to play the game of ball, extend the season. That’s the fun part. I didn’t feel like I played enough ball this year to my standards. It’s good to get some extra games in the playoffs, just play the game, have some fun and compete.”