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Lakers-Thunder Preview

Dec 18, 2015 - 8:26 PM It's been quite a while since Kevin Durant played against his childhood idol, and Kobe Bryant will likely be pretty happy to see him.

Durant spoke out in defense and admiration of Bryant earlier this month once the future Hall of Famer said he will retire at season's end, and now the former MVPs take the floor together for the first time in two years Saturday when the Oklahoma City Thunder open their season series with the Los Angeles Lakers.

When the 37-year-old Bryant got off to a rough start - he shot 31.1 percent in his first 11 games - some members of the media were critical of his game, questioning if he was taking too many shots or stealing minutes from the Lakers' young players. All that talk seemed to quiet down when Bryant announced Nov. 29 that this season would be his last, but two days later, the relatively quiet Durant went on a tirade.

"I've been disappointed this year because you guys (the media) treated him like (crap)," Durant said. "He's a legend, and all I hear is about how bad he's playing, how bad he's shooting and it's time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like (crap), and I didn't really like it. So hopefully now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire."

Bryant did show off a little youth Thursday, throwing down his first dunk of the season in a 107-87 loss to Houston. He tied a season high with eight rebounds and had 22 points in another good shooting night - he was 9 of 16 and is at 53.2 percent in the last three games while averaging 23.0 points.

''My legs felt lively and they felt springy,'' the 20-year veteran said. ''I don't know where it came from, but it was there. I can't really explain it. I feel like I can maintain this, but it's always a give-and-take with Father Time."

Durant is 10 years Bryant's junior but has won twice as many scoring titles - four to two - and is nearly halfway to his point total of 32,866, which ranks third all-time behind Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"I did idolize Kobe Bryant. I studied him, wanted to be like him," Durant said. "He was our Michael Jordan. ... He's had an amazing career. A guy that changed the game."

The 27-year-old has 16,056 points, including 25 in a 104-100 loss in Cleveland on Thursday after which LeBron James said Durant has a chance to challenge Abdul-Jabbar's record of 38,387.

''His ability to score the ball is obviously up there with the greatest to ever play,'' James said. ''I know that's not in his memory bank right now, him trying to help the team get better and better, but long term he definitely can challenge that.''

Bryant can't climb any higher - Malone is about 4,000 ahead of him - but could be motivated to put on a good show in his first matchup with Durant since Dec. 13, 2013. Bryant had four points in 23 minutes, Durant scored a game-high 31 and both sat out the fourth quarter as Oklahoma City won 122-97.

Durant missed last season's three meetings, though the Thunder won them all. Bryant's lone appearance in the teams' past six matchups came a year ago to the day of this one, scoring nine points on 3-of-15 shooting and missing a jumper at the buzzer in a 104-103 defeat.

Russell Westbrook had the go-ahead basket that night and had 27 points with 10 assists Thursday, but the difference was the bench as Oklahoma City had a six-game winning streak snapped.

The Thunder received a season-low 16 points from their reserves and fell to 1-8 when getting fewer than 30. They're 16-1 when the bench scores at least 30.

Dion Waiters was 1 of 7 and had four points Thursday after averaging 12.1 in the previous seven games, and fellow backup Anthony Morrow sat out due to a personal matter.

Oklahoma City has won seven of the past eight meetings, and Durant has averaged 33.8 points in his last nine against the Lakers. Los Angeles has lost six straight in Oklahoma City and 14 of 15 on the road.

The Thunder have won seven in a row at home.