Thunder welcome resilient Blazers to OKC
The Oklahoma City Thunder are fighting to get that No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and will try to make up ground Sunday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Thunder, last season's Western Conference champions, trail the San Antonio Spurs by 2 1/2 games for supremacy out west. OKC has already clinched a playoff spot, but the surging Denver Nuggets have made things interesting in the Northwest Division.
Denver, by virtue of its victory Saturday, its 15th in a row, is just 2 1/2 games behind the Thunder for the division lead.
The Thunder stemmed a two-game losing streak on Friday with a road victory in Orlando over the Magic. Orlando had a chance late, but the Thunder's defense was too much. OKC closed the game on an 8-1 run to preserve the 97-89 victory.
"I like the way we started and I liked the way we finished, with a defensive mindset," head coach Scott Brooks said. "Every possession was intense and focused defensive basketball. Offensively, they were switching and they were moving us around a little bit. I thought the first and fourth quarters were good basketball."
The Thunder held the Magic to 14 points in the first quarter and 23 in the final frame.
Kevin Durant led a balanced scoring attack with 25 points. Russell Westbrook chipped in 19 points and Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin and Nick Collison all scored in double figures.
The Thunder are 30-5 at home, which is the third-best home mark in the Western Conference. They may need all the good home vibes they can find because the Blazers have been great of late.
After starting their five-game road trip 0-2, the Blazers have won their last two. The victories came over the playoff-bound Chicago Bulls on Thursday and another postseason team, the Atlanta Hawks on Friday.
The Blazers, strengthened by 28 points from Wesley Matthews, broke the game open late in the third quarter and throughout the final frame. Portland bested Atlanta, 31-17, in the fourth to win 104-93.
"That was a quality road win against a very good playoff team," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Very pleased with our defense, particularly in the second half and for most of the game. For us to have back-to-back wins like this, at Chicago and Atlanta on the road, to do it with some defense, and some timely shooting, I'm very proud of my team."
Damian Lillard had 22 points and LaMarcus Aldridge added 20 points and 13 rebounds. J.J. Hickson contributed yet another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Portland shot 55.6 percent from beyond the arc and only played three guys off its bench. Will Barton was one of them and he only saw slightly more than four minutes.
The Blazers still have faint playoff hopes. They are 2 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final postseason berth out west.