Nearing a showdown against the NBA’s top team, the Oklahoma City Thunder could easily look past their next opponent. After all, they’re on a roll while the Orlando Magic are in a prolonged slump and visiting a city where they haven’t won in seven years.
Still, the Magic have been anything but a pushover against the Western Conference, and the Thunder needed a near miracle to beat them.
The rematch Wednesday night in Oklahoma City will feature Russell Westbrook going after a third consecutive triple-double. His well-rounded play has keyed the Thunder (37-13) winning 11 of 12, including four straight while averaging 121.0 points.
"We’re very comfortable," Westbrook told the team’s official website. "Everybody is doing a great job of spacing and moving without the basketball. My job is to find those guys in scoring positions and get them easy baskets."
Assuming Orlando doesn’t end a six-game skid in Oklahoma City which dates to November 2008, the Thunder would carry plenty of momentum into Saturday’s matchup with Golden State. Those title contenders have yet to meet but play three times in the next four weeks.
The Magic (21-26) have dropped five straight on the road and 13 of 15 overall to fall into the Southeast Division basement. Now they visit the Northwest Division leader, but playing West powers hasn’t intimidated Scott Skiles’ young team.
Orlando is 10-7 against the conference with six losses decided by six points or less, including three in overtime. The only result that wasn’t close was Monday’s 107-92 defeat in San Antonio, but the Magic rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take the lead in the third quarter before falling to a Spurs team which is 26-0 at home.
That came 24 hours after Orlando halted Boston’s five-game winning streak with a 119-114 victory.
"I still believe in our team and I still believe in our guys," said Victor Oladipo, who had 19 points Monday. "I still feel like a turn and a change is coming for us and we’re going to get things rolling again. We just all have to believe it, too."
The Magic must believe they can take down the Thunder considering they should have done so Oct. 30, but Westbrook banked in a 40-footer at the end of regulation and Oklahoma City won 139-136 in double overtime. Westbrook’s 48 points from that night are a season high, and so were Kevin Durant’s 43 until he had 44 last week in New York.
Durant is averaging 32.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in the last five games, but Westbrook taking fewer shots and finding teammates more often have been as important to the Thunder’s surge. He’s averaged 11.6 assists in the last 10 games with four triple-doubles, and Oklahoma City is 22-4 when he gets one (7-0 this season).
"It means that my teammates do a great job of getting open, creating lanes where I’m able to be effective, and I’m trying to find ways to get those guys the basketball and trying to play my game," he said.
During the Thunder’s seven-game home winning streak, Westbrook has averaged 13.4 field-goal attempts and 14.9 points. They are 19-1 overall when he attempts fewer than 18 shots.
"He’s really been efficient," coach Billy Donovan said.
Enes Kanter has added 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the last three heading into a matchup with fellow Swiss big man Nikola Vucevic, who has posted double-doubles in nine of 11.
Vucevic scored 25 in the first meeting, Oladipo posted his only triple-double of the season and Tobias Harris led Orlando with 30 points.