A few weeks ago Oklahoma City looked like a foregone conclusion to take the top seed in the Western Conference but the veteran- laden San Antonio Spurs had other ideas.
A nine-game winning streak has the Spurs even with the Thunder in the loss column and just one-game back in the standings as they get ready to host the New Orleans Hornets on Friday, a team that's last in the West and aiming to avoid a season sweep at the hands of San Antonio.
The Spurs, who are closing in on another Southwest Division crown, are coming off a hard-fought 87-86 win in Boston on Wednesday. Tim Duncan had 10 points and 16 rebounds in that one, and forced Paul Pierce into a tough shot that was off the mark as the buzzer sounded as San Antonio held off the Celtics.
Matt Bonner had 10 points and 10 boards, and hit a big jumper in the final minute for the Spurs, who have won 12 of the last 14 at Boston. Danny Green ended with 14 points and Gary Neal had 13, as San Antonio survived a nine- point third quarter and broke Boston's eight-game home winning streak.
"We knew coming in here they're a playoff caliber team and they're always a tough challenge and it was a good game for us, a good challenge for us," Duncan said.
The Hornets, meanwhile, got a big boost with the return of high-scoring guard Eric Gordon on Wednesday. The Indiana product, who hadn't played in an NBA game in exactly three months, showed no rust, knocking down two free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining to lift New Orleans to a 94-92 victory over the Nuggets in the Big Easy.
"It feels good to get a win," remarked Gordon. "I played sluggish tonight but a good win is a win. I just need to get adjusted, get back to playing and getting wins like we did tonight."
Gordon, who was a key component in the December trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, last played on Jan. 4 against Philadelphia before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Feb. 14 after he suffered a bruised right knee in the team's season opener.
Gordon finished with 15 points in his return, Trevor Ariza added 15 as well, and Chris Kaman tallied 14 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans, which snapped a three-game losing streak.
Hornets guard Jarrett Jack missed the game due to a sore right ankle and Greivis Vasquez started in his place, finishing with 11 points and 10 assists.
Jack's status remains questionable tonight for NOLA, which also continues to play without injured big man Emeka Okafor.
The Spurs, who are a gaudy 21-4 in the Alamo City and will play five of their next six at home, have won 10 of their last 12 overall against New Orleans.