Oklahoma City doesn't have much to play for between now and mid-April, and that lack of pressure is leading to a whole lot of winning. Toronto still has a chance at the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but is trying to balance rest with a postseason mentality.
The Raptors might have to sacrifice one or the other Monday night with the Thunder visiting as the hottest team in basketball as Toronto goes for the season sweep.
Oklahoma City (51-22), which will play seven of nine remaining games on the road, pushed its winning streak to seven with Saturday's 111-92 home victory over San Antonio to complete a three-game homestand. And while the win looks more impressive at first glance than it actually might have been with the Spurs resting Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the Thunder only concerned themselves with their own momentum.
Though they're no chance of tracking down the Spurs for the West's No. 2 seed and clinching the No. 3 spot is a mere formality, the Thunder matched their longest winning streak of the season.
A victory Monday would give them their best stretch since a 10-game run from Jan. 16-31, 2014.
“Another opportunity for us to keep growing and building our habits,” said Kevin Durant, who scored a game-high 31 points with 10 rebounds and hit 5 of 7 from 3-point range. “It wasn't on us that they didn't play their starters. We just had to continue to play our game and do what we do.”
Oklahoma City shot 51.8 percent for its fifth effort over 50 on the winning streak, during which it's averaged 117.0 points. Durant has shot 58.1 percent in his last five, while Russell Westbrook is three total rebounds off averaging a triple-double on the streak – 20.0 points, 11.0 assists and 9.6 rebounds.
The Raptors (49-23) started the season series with a 103-98 win in Oklahoma City on Nov. 4, but the teams have traded wins and losses for the last six. DeMar DeRozan had 28 points in the first meeting and has averaged 25.3 in the last four.
Dwane Casey said last week he's not going to risk any of his players' health to chase anyone in the standings, but DeRozan sounded intent on making the most of every minute after Saturday's 115-91 win in New Orleans.
Toronto, which remains 2 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the East, now takes its first shot at the first 50-win season in franchise history.
“We've got to understand the second half of the season is where it counts, where it matters, where we understand who we are and what we've got to do to win,” DeRozan said. ''Because it's not just for the season, it's for the postseason going in and understanding we've got to be a defensive team and have to get stops.”
It was the fifth time on a 5-2 span the Raptors have held an opponent to 94 points or fewer. At the other end, DeRozan had 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting as the Raptors shot 53.4 percent and bounced back from just their second set of consecutive losses dating to Jan. 6.
Kyle Lowry, who was part of Casey's rest plan three games ago in Boston, brought that shooting percentage down some. The guard was 3 of 13 from the field and has averaged 14.7 points on 25.5 percent in his last three games, including 4 of 22 from 3-point range.
He's also been limited to 14.1 points while shooting 35.0 percent in his last seven against the Thunder.