PORTLAND, Ore. — Some opponents capture a team's full attention. During the Thunder's current seven-game stretch in its schedule, those teams would be Miami (twice), the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago, Memphis and Indiana.
The only team with a losing record in that time frame is Portland.
Evidently the Trail Blazers had the Thunder's attention from the get-go as OKC jumped out early and recovered from a third-quarter scare to post a 109-95 victory at the Rose Garden on Tuesday.
It was OKC's fourth straight win in what is easily its stiffest challenge of this season's condensed 66-game schedule.
Up next for the Thunder (38-12): At the Lakers (31-19) on Thursday; at home against Chicago (40-11) on Sunday; home against Memphis (27-21) on Monday; at Miami (35-13) next Wednesday; at Indiana (29-19) on April 6.
Though Portland (23-27) is under the direction of an interim coach and dropped four players from its roster before the March 15 trade deadline, there are much easier buildings in which to post a road victory.
Tuesday marked the 184th consecutive sellout at the Rose Garden. By comparison, OKC has 40 straight sellouts.
This was hardly the place to overlook an inferior foe.
“There always are games on the schedule where you get excited,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It's just human nature. It's nothing against the other team. When you play against the best players in the game and best teams in the game, there's something to that.”
The Thunder jumped out early and never trailed after the 10:01 mark of the first quarter.
OKC shot 65.0 percent in the first quarter, 66.7 percent in the second quarter and 65.9 percent in the first half for a 65-47 lead.
It was the second straight game the Thunder lit it up before intermission. OKC shot 66.7 percent in the first half at home Sunday night for a 60-49 halftime lead against the Miami Heat.
“It's good ball movement,” explained Thunder sixth man James Harden, who had 21 points, five assists and shot 6 for 7 from the field against the Blazers. “Everybody is on pace and on the same page. We get stops defensively and we get easy buckets. In these past couple games we've really been in a grove of passing the ball and sharing it.”
Harden was only half-right on Tuesday night when it came to sharing the ball.
Oddly enough, the Thunder had 14 assists in the first half, but just two assists after intermission, yet still won handily thanks to driving the basketball and defense that frequently resulted in easy baskets.
“We're really locking down on defense and we were getting easier shots in the second half,” Harden explained. “Russell (Westbrook) was making some good pull-ups and lots of guys were making some shots.”
Westbrook's overall performance was superb. He finished with a game-high 32 points, shot 16 for 26 from the field, had eight assists, three steals and just two turnovers. His only flaws were from 3-point range and the free-throw line, where he went 0 for 3 in each.
Kevin Durant added 25 points and shot 10 for 14 from the floor. Serge Ibaka had eight points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
The Blazers went down swinging and made a push in the third quarter.
With 9:32 left in the third period, the Thunder led 69-49 following a Durant dunk. Portland went on a 17-2 tear over the next five minutes to pull within 71-66.
OKC re-established itself with key defensive stops that led to easy baskets, and the Thunder led by double-digits the final nine minutes of the game.
“We knew they would make a run,” Brooks said of the Blazers. “They're a very prideful team. They play hard this is one of the toughest places to play. The crowd is outstanding and they had a lot of momentum going but we made some big plays to stop that run.”
Though OKC has had several quality runs this season, these last four games might be the most impressive yet.
“I think these last couple games we're playing our best basketball both offensively and defensively,” Harden said.