Spurs vs Thunder Preview 3/25/15
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
Russell Westbrook and Enes Kanter are helping the Oklahoma City Thunder strengthen their hold on the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Facing the San Antonio Spurs could keep the Thunder rolling.
Westbrook and Kanter look to continue their superb play Wednesday night when Oklahoma City attempts to tie its longest winning streak against the Spurs.
The Thunder (41-30) are eighth in the West and have moved three games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix behind four straight wins and six in the past seven.
Westbrook has been a force for all season for Oklahoma City, and is getting ample help from Kanter lately.
Westbrook is a top contender for MVP, leading the league with 27.5 points per game. His importance to the Thunder has been obvious with reigning league MVP Kevin Durant (foot) out indefinitely, averaging 32.7 points, 11.2 assists and 9.6 rebounds over the last 13 games.
Despite the recent success in the face of injuries to Durant, as well as starters Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson and key reserve Nick Collison, Westbrook downplayed the idea that the Thunder are getting comfortable playing without their superstar.
"You can never get used to playing without one of the best players in the world," Westbrook said of Durant. "But our job is to come out and compete every night at a high level."
Kanter, who was acquired in a trade from Utah last month, has proven to be a huge addition. Over his last eight games, he's scoring 21.6 points on 58.7 percent shooting and pulling down 12.6 boards.
They were both impressive in Tuesday's 127-117 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook had 27 points and 11 assists, while Kanter had a double-double in the first quarter before finishing with 25 points and 16 rebounds.
The center was a big reason why the Thunder had a 66-58 scoring advantage in the paint and a 49-28 edge on the glass.
"We did a good job of just staying in attack mode and finishing well in the paint," Westbrook said. "(Kanter) did a good job of being aggressive. Enes has good touch, especially around the paint and you are seeing that early."
Another strong performance from the duo could be just what Oklahoma City needs to beat San Antonio (44-26) for a seventh straight matchup, tying its longest winning streak in the series set as the Seattle SuperSonics from April 19, 1993-Nov. 30, 1994.
Westbrook is averaging 30.7 points in his last three meetings with the Spurs, scoring 34 with 11 assists, five rebounds and as many steals in a 114-106 road win on Christmas.
Kanter will face the Spurs for the first time since joining the Thunder after he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds in his last four matchups with Utah.
San Antonio had a three-game win streak snapped with Tuesday's 101-94 loss at Dallas and dropped into a virtual tie with the Mavericks for sixth in the conference.
The Spurs, who had averaged 112.5 points per game during a 10-2 stretch overall, have won 14 of 16 at home. They've scored over 100 points in seven straight games there, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and outscoring opponents by an average of 13.2 points per game.
Tuesday saw the return of guard Manu Ginobili, who had seven points, four rebounds and three assists in 16 minutes off the bench after he missed four games with a right ankle sprain.
Kawhi Leonard, who led the Spurs with 19 points Tuesday, missed the last meeting with the Thunder due to a torn ligament in his right hand. He's averaging 19.9 points and 3.1 steals in his last 12 games.