The Oklahoma City Thunder will try to keep pace with the San Antonio Spurs atop the Western Conference standings Friday night when they host the Orlando Magic.
The Spurs are 1 1/2 games up on the Thunder with the home stretch in full swing. At stake is homecourt advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs as OKC has the third-most victories in the NBA behind San Antonio and the Miami Heat.
The Thunder have won six of their last seven with the only blemish a road loss to those Spurs on Monday. On Wednesday, OKC won its sixth consecutive home game with a 110-87 thumping of the Utah Jazz.
Defense was the key for the Thunder in their win over the Jazz. Not known for effectiveness on that side of the ball, OKC held Utah to nine points in the second quarter and 28 in the first half. The nine points was an Oklahoma City record for fewest points allowed in a quarter.
"Our defense was outstanding that first half," head coach Scott Brooks said. "Holding a very good offensive team to a low field-goal percentage and nine points in the second quarter. I thought that was the game right there - the way we came on in the first and second quarter playing good defense and scoring off of that."
The Thunder held the Jazz to 32 points in the paint and outrebounded Utah, 48-35.
On a night when no Thunder player logged more than 29 minutes, Kevin Durant led the way with 23 points. Russell Westbrook added 19 and Kevin Martin chipped in 15.
The Magic haven't played since Dwight Howard's emotional return with his Los Angeles Lakers squad. Orlando fell 106-97 and Howard matched his own NBA record with 39 free-throw attempts, which drew some criticism from Lakers' coach Mike D'Antoni, implying it was boring to see so many free throws.
"I coach the Orlando Magic," Jacque Vaughn said.
The Magic have lost three of their last four, although they are 2-1 in their last three on the road. Friday's contest in Oklahoma City starts a four-game road trip for Orlando, which is 8-22 outside Disney World this season.
On Friday, Orlando will have to deal with the NBA's best scorer in Durant. The task belongs to rookie Mo Harkless, who has had to defend Indiana's Paul George and someone named LeBron from the Heat, in two of his last four.
"Another learning opportunity," Vaughn said of Harkless. "Whether it's Paul George, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, it's long list at that "3" position. That's what makes it special."
The Thunder have won two in a row against the Magic and have won three in a row at home against Orlando.