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Kevin Durant, Thunder suddenly find themselves in a tight race

The Pepsi Center in Denver is one of only four venues where Kevin Durant hasn't earned a win. But Tuesday night's game there will be critical if Oklahoma City wants to hold on to its Northwest Division lead, Western Conference fourth seed and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 4, 2011

Kevin Durant has never won inside the Pepsi Center.

It's one of only four venues in which the Thunder's star still hasn't defeated the home team.

But if Durant wants to see his team hang onto fourth place in the Western Conference, he might want to make it a point to mark off the Mile High City from his list Tuesday night.

Suddenly, the Thunder is in a tight race with Denver for the fourth seed in the playoffs. At stake for the winner of said race is the Northwest Division crown and home-court advantage in the first round.

The Thunder takes a three-game lead into Tuesday's game, but the Nuggets are red hot, having won their last six, including a gutsy win Sunday against an even hotter Los Angeles Lakers team inside Staples Center.

Then there's this. The franchise hasn't won at Denver since March 28, 2007.

Kevin Durant had just finished his freshman season at the University of Texas. Thunder forward Nick Collison is the only player remaining from the team that last won in Denver.

“I hope we get the first one. But it's no added pressure,” Durant said confidently.

After a 14-2 month of March, it seemed certain that the Thunder would be the fourth seed. Then OKC lost at Portland last Friday night. Then at the Los Angeles Clippers the next night. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have gone 15-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony to New York. Now, things are a little murky.

“That team is playing very, very well,” Durant said. “They're very hot since the trade. We got to bring our A game. It's tough to play them there. But we'll be all right.”

The Thunder's losing streak at Denver has stretched to seven games, and the margin of defeat, a whopping 19.2 points, hasn't even been close. If the Thunder loses Tuesday, Denver will pull within two games with one final matchup between the two teams set for Friday in Oklahoma City.

“We're very concerned,” Durant said. “They're doing a great job of closing out games up there in Denver and kind of shortening the margin between us two. But we play them twice and it's going to be big games for us.”

Both teams will have five games remaining following Tuesday's contest. In addition to the rematch Friday, the Thunder will play the Clippers back inside Oklahoma City Arena on Wednesday, at the Lakers on Sunday — another opponent Durant hasn't defeated on the road (Milwaukee and Orlando are the other two) — at Sacramento on April 11 and at home against Milwaukee on April 13. Denver's other four games are at Dallas, at home against Minnesota and Golden State and a regular-season finale at Utah.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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