Thunder-76ers Preview

The Oklahoma City Thunder have emerged as a bona fide NBA title
contender, and their play just before the All-Star break only
seemed to reaffirm that status.

The Thunder will try to maintain their Western Conference lead
during a potentially difficult three-game road trip that begins
Wednesday night against the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia
76ers.

Oklahoma City (27-7) entered the break on a five-game win streak
and claimed its final two victories by 15 points apiece against
perennial powers Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Led by All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder
are averaging 102.7 points and among the league leaders in shooting
(47.5 percent) and opponents’ shooting percentage (42.3).

“We’ve just started to jell – young guys that love playing
basketball, that’s all that we do. It makes it easier to come to
work every day,” Durant, who was named the All-Star Game’s MVP
following a 36-point effort. “I’m just blessed I’m a part of this
organization. Everybody is just Grade A, and I’m glad we’re getting
better as a group.”

The Thunder, however, still see room to improve, especially in
taking care of the ball. Oklahoma City has one of the league’s
highest turnover rates at 16.9 per game.

“I’m greedy,” Durant said. “There’s some games we lost that we
should have won. But, all in all, it was decent. … We’ve got to
keep working, keep improving. We can’t be happy with just being
27-7. There’s a lot of things we have to work on.”

The Thunder will begin that work during a Eastern road trip that
will also take them to Orlando and Atlanta.

The journey starts against Philadelphia (21-14), which snapped a
season-high five-game skid in its return from the break by routing
Detroit 97-68 on the road Tuesday.

After averaging 83.2 points during its losing streak,
Philadelphia had six players score in double figures Tuesday, led
by Thaddeus Young’s 20. The 76ers also shot 50.0 percent in the
win, 10.5 better than in their previous five games.

They also allowed their second-fewest points this season and
lowest shooting percentage (31.6).

“The guys gave me a great gift with the way they played,” said
coach Doug Collins, who left the bench between the third and fourth
quarters after feeling lightheaded.

Philadelphia has had a more difficult time stopping the Thunder
in recent matchups, allowing at least 109 points in each of the
past four and an average of 111.8. That’s helped Oklahoma City
produce a five-game win streak in the series, including
back-to-back victories at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Thunder, though, won last season’s two meetings by a
combined 11 points and needed overtime to prevail 110-105 in
Philadelphia on March 9. Durant had 34 points in that win,
including the final five in regulation, and has averaged 31.0 over
his past four games against the 76ers.

Westbrook averaged 29.0 points in last season’s two matchups for
his second-best mark against any opponent in 2010-11.

Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday averaged a team-best 19.5 points in
last season’s series, and his career mark of 16.3 against the
Thunder is the third-year guard’s best versus any opponent.