Kevіn Durаnt on Jаyson Tаtum: ‘He’ѕ one of thoѕe guyѕ thаt’s goіng to сontrol the leаgue for the next 10, 12 yeаrs’

Being that dude on the NBA’s best team often automatically puts a player in the NBA MVP conversation, but that’s not the only reason Kevin Durant sees Jayson Tatum as such.

“His consistency all year,” said Durant, who won the award a decade ago in the 2013-14 season. “Putting up a high number of points. Stats matter when it comes to MVP. His team is winning games, most importantly, by a landslide. The record factors into it. He’s had MVP caliber seasons the last few years, too. So, it’s just a matter of your narrative at this point.”

Boston’s No. 0 is priority No. 1 for the Phoenix Suns in Thursday’s rematch at TD Garden.

Tatum posted 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in leading the NBA-leading Celtics (51-14) to a 117-107 win over the Suns (37-27) last week at Footprint Center, as Durant went for a season-high 45 in defeat.

Time for two of the game’s best, who are nearly 10 years apart in age, to square up once again.

“I’ve been in this league a long time now and I know when it’s a passing of the guard,” Durant said after Wednesday’s practice at Emerson College. “I know when the young dudes are going to come in and do the same thing the older guys are doing. He’s one of those guys that’s likely going to control the league for the next 10, 12 years and be a staple in our game and the history of our game.”

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) drives past Boston Celticsforward Jayson Tatum (0) at Footprint Center in Phoenix on March 9, 2024. 

The 35-year-old Durant is fourth in the league in scoring at 28.5 points a game while Tatum, who just turned 26 March 3, stands eighth at 27.0 a night.

Top scorers to clash Thursday night

“It’s just about competing,” Durant continued. “Trying to go out there and be the best individual you can be because you can see the game pushing forward when you’re on the court with somebody like that. You can tell so many people watching are inspired by that matchup. It’s a great opportunity for us to just showcase how great the game of basketball is and how great we are as players.”

Durant and the Suns didn’t have Devin Booker in the first Phoenix-Boston matchup March 9 due to a right ankle sprain that sidelined him four games.

The four-time All-Star returned Monday against Cleveland and scored 27 points in a 117-111 win. Booker now returns to the arena where he scored his career-best 70 points as the Suns continue their four-game road trip against the Celtics, who are an NBA-best 29-3 at home.

“They’re a complete team,” Booker said about the Celtics. “They’ve been really good in the past, too, but they play together well. They switch a lot of actions and they have the versatility of guys guarding one through five. That helps out a lot. It’ll be a good test for us. I’m looking forward to it.”

Suns coach Frank Vogel missed Wednesday’s practice at Emerson College in Boston for personal reasons, but Suns officials said they expect him to coach Thursday’s game.

Josh Okogie (knee) and Damion Lee (knee) are both ruled out Thursday as Lee hasn’t played all season, but did make the road trip, which is a sign of progress. The Suns hope to have Lee back by the end of the regular season next month.

Eric Gordon (knee) is listed as questionable while Nassir Little is probable. A full participant in Wednesday’s practice, Little has missed seven straight games. Okogie has been sidelined for five games in a row while Gordon sat out Monday after having his knee flare up against the Celtics last week.

Both teams looking to get healthy for matchup

The three went through some pregame work before the Suns topped the Cavaliers. Gordon and Okogie were limited in Wednesday’s practice and are considered day-to-day.

As for the Celtics, Jaylen Brown (left hip contusion) is questionable for Thursday while Kristaps Porziņģis (right hamstring strain) is ruled out a fourth straight game. Al Horford (left big toe strain), Brown and Porziņģis sat out Tuesday’s 123-107 win at Utah, but Horford isn’t on the team’s injury report for Thursday.

Durant and Tatum are coming off 30-point efforts. Tatum scored 38 Tuesday while Durant dropped 37 Monday to mark a career-best four straight games of 35-plus points for the NBA’s ninth all-time leading scorer.

Larry Bird was the last Celtics player to win NBA MVP way back in the 1985-86 in taking the award three straight seasons. Nuggets big Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are 1-2-3 on NBA.com’s latest MVP ladder.

Tatum and Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic round out the top five. NBA.com writer Michael C. Wright explains why Tatum falls short of the top 3 as Antetokounmpo is a two-time MVP winner, too.

“The numbers and production don’t quite match the other candidates, and we saw him struggle late last week in two straight games,” Wright said when The Republic asked him why Tatum isn’t top 3. “That said, Tatum still deserves to be among the top five based on the fact he’s been the head of the snake on what’s been a historically dominant Boston team all season.”