The San Antonio Spurs’ winning streak is nearing a quarter of the regular season, but it’s unlikely to have faced a much more difficult test than the one coming.
After cruising to their 19th straight victory, the Spurs head to Oklahoma City on Thursday night to complete a back-to-back set against the Thunder with hopes of all but wrapping up the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Spurs (59-16) have dropped the last four meetings with the Thunder (54-19) as well as their last six visits to Oklahoma City, including the postseason.
Extending its franchise-record winning streak to 20 games would give San Antonio a five-game lead over Oklahoma City for the No. 1 seed with six games remaining.
Lately, the wins are coming with little doubt. After Wednesday’s 111-90 home victory over the Warriors, the Spurs have won their last four by an average of 23.5 points.
"Our system is working," said Tim Duncan, who scored 15 points in 20 minutes.
Tony Parker led the way with 18 in 28 minutes.
The blowout wins have allowed coach Gregg Popovich to rest some of his key players in the second halves of games, though he wouldn’t give details on his plan for minutes against the Thunder.
"We talk about that internally and we’ll try to figure out what we want to do," Popovich told the team’s official website. "I’m not going to discuss in a group outside of our guys."
While the Spurs will be playing on consecutive nights, the Thunder have been off since Sunday’s 116-96 home win over Utah, their sixth victory in seven games. They’ve tried to balance preparation for the Spurs with rest over the three-day layoff as they prepare for five games in seven days.
"It’s important to get the work in, but it’s also important to rest," coach Scott Brooks told the team’s official website. "Most coaches like me want to keep practicing and doing drills and scrimmaging and special situations. You also have to rest the body and the mind and our players understand that we have to utilize all of our days."
Kevin Durant looked plenty fresh against the Jazz with 31 points on 9-of-13 shooting and nine assists.
He’s averaging 35.9 points in the last seven games, and he was right at that average with 36 points in his last game against the Spurs, a 111-105 victory in San Antonio on Jan. 22. That hasn’t been the norm, though, as the Spurs held Durant to 22.3 points in the six meetings prior to that.
That average is quite a pat on the Spurs’ backs given Durant’s run of 38 straight games with 25 points or more. Michael Jordan’s 40 straight during the 1986-87 season is the only streak better in the last 50 years.
"I’m just going out there, playing my game," Durant said. "If it happens, cool. If it doesn’t, cool. That’s how I approach it – just playing within the offense. If a shot’s there, shoot it. If a pass is there, pass it. I try to play as simple as I can. If that (25 points or more) comes with it, then so be it, but if not, I’m not going to lose any sleep."
The January meeting also featured a standout effort from Parker, who finished with a season-high 37 points in the losing cause.
Thunder guard Reggie Jackson has missed the last two games with a mid-back sprain. He scored 27 points with Russell Westbrook out in the last meeting against the Spurs and is averaging 23.7 points in the Thunder’s three wins in the series this season.