OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kobe Bryant just became the fifth player in NBA history to surpass 30,000 points.
It seems possible that Kevin Durant will eventually join him on that list.
The league’s top two scorers will be in the spotlight Friday night with Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder on a season-high six-game win streak heading into their first meeting with Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers since last season’s playoffs.
Bryant added to his status as one of the game’s greatest players Wednesday with 29 points in a 103-87 victory at New Orleans, giving him 30,016 for his career. Commissioner David Stern offered Bryant a congratulatory handshake before the Lakers star joined a list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Bryant said. “These are players I respect tremendously and obviously grew up idolizing and watching and learned a great deal from.”
The 24-year-old Durant grew up watching the 34-year-old Bryant. The Thunder star, who became the second-youngest player to reach 10,000 points in the season opener, remains in awe.
“I know he’s an old fart,” Durant said. “Since I was about 8 years old, watching him dominate every year he’s been in the league, it’s been a joy to watch. It was just an honor and a blessing to play on his team this summer in the Olympics.
“To get 30,000 points, man, you’re one of only five guys to do it so far, it’s just an unbelievable accomplishment. It’s good to say you’ve played in the game with a great player, probably the best player in my era that I’ve ever seen. It’s great to have somebody to kind of aim to and look up to and just compete against on a high level.”
Durant averaged 26.8 points and Bryant 31.2 in last year’s Western Conference semifinal series that Oklahoma City (15-4) won in five games.
That series defeat no doubt caused Los Angeles to make changes, most notably adding superstars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
Nash has played in only two games due to a leg injury and Howard – coming off back surgery – hasn’t been nearly as effective as many expected. The Lakers (9-10) are 4-5 since hiring Mike D’Antoni as coach, although Durant still sees them as a threat in the West.
“It’s early in the year, they’re a really good team,” Durant said. “They’ve got so many good players, so many champions. They’re going to turn this thing around pretty quickly.”
Bryant leads the league with 28.0 points per game, but Los Angeles is 1-7 when he scores at least 30. Durant, who scored 32 in Tuesday’s 117-111 victory at Brooklyn, is averaging 26.5.
No mention of the Thunder is complete without Russell Westbrook, who victimized the Lakers by averaging 25.6 points against them in last season’s playoffs.
In the middle, Howard and Oklahoma City center Serge Ibaka will do battle in a matchup of premier shot blockers. Ibaka averages a league-high 3.3 blocks while Howard is fourth at 2.8.
Lakers big man Pau Gasol has missed the first two games of this three-game trip with tendinitis in both knees, and is expected to be out again Friday. Antawn Jamison has started in his place, scoring 15 points in each game.