Thursday night's battle between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder will go a long way in establishing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
San Antonio is 1 1/2 games ahead of the Thunder when the two sides meet in Oklahoma City Thursday. The Spurs have seven games left on the schedule, while the Thunder have eight to go.
It's basically a two-horse race at this point. The Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies are both five games behind the Spurs and it would take a sensational run and epic collapse to make that perfect storm happen.
The Spurs played at home on Wednesday night and had little trouble dispatching the Orlando Magic, 98-84. Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard both missed the game due to injury and Manu Ginobili will be out a few more weeks with a hamstring issue.
Danny Green led the Spurs with 20 points, followed by Gary Neal's 16 and 10 from Tiago Splitter. Tim Duncan returned after missing Monday's loss to the Grizzlies with a sore knee, but only scored five points in less than 14 minutes of action.
"It's always good to get the win first. Second of all, the rest will hopefully help the team come tomorrow," Green said after the victory on Wednesday. "Guys are sore and banged up a little bit. So, hopefully they come out fresh tomorrow."
There have been no updates on the health of Duncan, Parker or Leonard, but it would be shocking to see them miss such an important contest.
Wednesday's victory snapped a two-game losing streak for San Antonio.
OKC has taken four its last five and is well rested. The Thunder haven't played since a 109-99 victory in Milwaukee on Saturday over the Bucks. It was certainly not a vacation.
"A lot of thinking, a lot of time figuring out ways to get better for the last two and a half weeks of the season," head coach Scott Brooks said Wednesday of the downtime. "Film, planning ahead. All we're focusing on is today's practice and that was really good. We had a lot of scrimmaging and a lot of defensive close-out drills. I thought it was good."
Against the Bucks, Kevin Durant (30) and Russell Westbrook (23) led the way, but Westbrook was especially brilliant. He had his sixth career triple-double with 13 rebounds and 10 assists to go with the 23 points.
Serge Ibaka moved past Milwaukee's Larry Sanders for the league lead in blocked shots after eight against the Bucks.
Defense was the key for the Thunder. After allowing 37 points in the third quarter, OKC clamped down and held the Bucks to 16 in the final frame of what was a tied game.
"It was a very intense game, it was a playoff-type of game," said Brooks. "Both teams just laid it out there. I thought our defense in that fourth quarter made the difference."
The Spurs have won two of three this season with both wins in San Antonio. The Spurs won five of their last seven in Oklahoma City.