Basketball fans will receive a nice treat before the NBA Star break with tonight's matchup between two of the league's best, as the leading Oklahoma City Thunder play host to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Thunder share the NBA's best record with the Miami Heat at 26-7 and have won 11 in a row at home, where they are 14-1 this season. The Thunder are averaging 107.9 points per game during their home winning streak and last won 12 straight as the host twice under head coach George Karl during the 1997-98 campaign when the team resided in Seattle.
Oklahoma City will wrap up a five-game residency tonight and has won four straight overall and six of seven games, including Wednesday's 119-104 victory over the Boston Celtics thanks to 31 points, six assists and five rebounds from Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant did his part, as usual, with 28 points, nine boards, six assists and four steals for the Thunder, who made 50 percent of their shots and scored 24 points off 18 Boston turnovers.
"I thought in the first half we moved the ball extremely well," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. "In the second half, we got the big lead and got a little sloppy."
Sloppy or not, the Thunder own a comfortable lead atop the Northwest Division standings and got 17 points apiece from James Harden and Daequan Cook. In Brooks' defense, his team almost blew a 26-point lead to New Orleans on Monday before watching a 27-point advantage vanish versus the Celtics. Westbrook has been on fire over his last three games, averaging 34 ppg.
After hosting the Lakers in OKC, the Thunder will kick off a three-game road trip through Philadelphia, Orlando and Atlanta after the break.
Los Angeles has been dealing with off-the-court issues lately with trade rumors and players-only meetings, but that hasn't stopped the team from winning two straight and five of six games.
On a night Bryant struggled for 15 points on 4-of-15 shooting, Pau Gasol -- the subject of those trade rumors -- picked up the slack in last night's 96-91 win at Dallas with 24 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"I thought our guys did a nice job of executing down the stretch," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "I feel like offensively we're getting a little better, but right now our end of game execution isn't quite where I want."
Andrew Bynum finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds and Derek Fisher added 15 points for Los Angeles, which is one game behind the Clippers for Pacific Division supremacy. The Lakers didn't get a chance to play against former forward Lamar Odom due to a family issue. Odom was dealt to the defending NBA champion Mavericks in the offseason.
The Lakers are just 6-11 as the guest this season and will begin a three-game homestand versus the Timberwolves, Kings and Heat after the All-Star break. They took two of three meetings from Oklahoma City a year ago and have won 14 of the past 16 meetings between the teams.
LA is facing a dangerous Thunder team on the road, however, but has prevailed in seven of the previous eight matchups as the visitor in this series.