The Oklahoma City Thunder is back in the driver's seat.
After a 97-75 win at Indiana on Friday, the Thunder moved into a tie with San Antonio for first place in the Western Conference standings. Both teams were 55-20 following Friday's games, although the Spurs hosted Atlanta on Saturday night. Still, the Thunder can secure the top spot and home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs even if both teams win out.
Because both teams lead their respective divisions and the four-game season series ended in a split, the next tiebreaker in the event both teams finished with an identical record would be conference won-loss record. The Thunder could finish as high as 39-13 against West teams, while the Spurs can only get to 37-15.
But the Thunder continues to insist that these last six games are about getting better rather than securing the top spot.
“It's one of those things that it's great that it's happened, but we're not focusing on it,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of catching the Spurs. “We just want to continue to play good basketball and hopefully we continue to do that.”
Nick Collison reiterated that playoff seeding is important but added that the team continuing its current level of play is more significant.
“We like how we're playing,” Collison said. “A few games ago in Minnesota we played awful and we didn't feel good about how we were playing. But now, we played OK in Milwaukee and got a win, but these last two games we feel like we're playing at a really high level and that's where we want to keep it the rest of the way going into the playoffs.”
DURANT, ANTHONY LINKED THROUGH HISTORY
Durant and New York forward Carmelo Anthony are battling for this year's scoring title and have been linked for roughly a decade.
Both grew up in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area and played one season at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
During his high school days at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., Durant often was compared to Anthony, who played at Towson (Md.) Catholic.
Each played one season in college — Durant at Texas and Anthony at Syracuse — before entering the NBA Draft.
Anthony won the 2003 national title at Syracuse, beating Collison and his Kansas Jayhawks, 81-78, in New Orleans. Anthony finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, while Collison had 19 points, 21 rebounds, three blocks, three steals and three assists before fouling out.
KD VS. MELO
There figures to be many occasions Sunday when Anthony and Durant are guarding each other.
The Thunder presumably will work in shifts defending Anthony, with Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka taking turns and everyone nearby lending a hand whenever possible.
New York guard Iman Shumpert likely will be assigned to Durant.
Anthony missed the March 7 game against OKC with a sore right knee.
IBAKA GROWING AS A PASSER
Ibaka registered one assist in the Thunder's 22-point win at Indiana, but it was a beauty, a backdoor bounce pass to Durant, who finished with a layup and a three-point play.
Durant had just two points on 1-for-4 shooting before that play and ended up finishing with a game-high 34 points.
“Serge is a good passer and he seen a great backdoor pass to me,” Durant said. “That got me going right there. That one got me going. I was 1-for-4 and after that one I just felt good about myself.”
Ibaka has increased his assist average in each of his first four seasons, going from 0.1 as a rookie to 0.6 this season. No pass from Ibaka this year illustrated how much he's grown like Friday's backdoor bounce pass to Durant.
“That's something that as his career goes he's going to be able to make those catches and make those plays,” Brooks said. “
Durant shook off a scary injury just before halftime Friday at Indiana and said after the game that he will be OK after sustaining a left calf contusion.
“It's just one of them unfortunate situations,” Durant said. “I tried to go for the rebound and Serge was jumping at the same time. And as he was jumping his knee hit the back of my leg. So I'll be all right. I just got to ice it and I'll be cool.”
Collison, meanwhile, cut his left pinkie finger Friday night, resulting in blood trickling on various spots on the floor.
“I just sliced it near the nail and it won't stop bleeding,” Collison said. “It's kind of a strange thing. I think my blood's thin. That's what the doctor told me, so it won't stop bleeding.”
Collison's finger injury joins a nagging list of nicks and knacks that include bruised ribs and a shiner above his right eye.
“It's all minor stuff so it's good,” Collison said. “No cartilage, no knees, nothing big. So I'm good.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel: “Kevin Durant is ridiculous. Just an elite, elite scorer.”