The Oklahoma City Thunder squandered their first opportunity to clinch the second seed in the Western Conference. They may have an easier time seizing the moment Monday night.
The visiting Thunder seek their 11th consecutive victory over the injury-ravaged New Orleans Pelicans, whom they blew out three days earlier.
Oklahoma City (58-22) could have clinched the West’s No. 2 spot Sunday at Indiana, but was outrebounded 46-32 and let the Pacers shoot 52.8 percent in a 102-97 defeat.
Kevin Durant scored 38 while Russell Westbrook added 21, though he was 7 of 23 from the field.
Westbrook, who averaged 28.5 points on 50.6 percent shooting over his previous four contests, is shooting 54.5 percent in two matchups this season with New Orleans. He recorded 24 points in just 28 minutes while helping the Thunder claim a 28-0 edge in fast-break points in Friday’s 116-94 home win over the Pelicans. However, he hasn’t played in both games of a back-to-back since Dec. 21-22 as the team tries to rest his surgically repaired right knee.
Oklahoma City clinches a second-place finish with one more win or a loss by the Los Angeles Clippers, who host Denver on Tuesday before visiting Portland on Wednesday. The Thunder wrap up the regular season at home Wednesday against Detroit.
"We just have to put it behind us. The last week or two we’ve been in a lot of playoff-type atmospheres," Durant said after Sunday’s loss. "You can’t gauge anything off of one game but you have to look at the whole season and see how we’ve grown."
Durant has led the Thunder’s 10-game win streak in this series by shooting 62.2 percent, including 22 of 42 from 3-point range. His 53.4 career field-goal percentage against New Orleans is his highest against one opponent, and Oklahoma City has won 14 of the past 15 meetings.
The Pelicans (32-48) continue to trudge along with perhaps the league’s most injury-plagued roster, losing eight in a row after a season-best five-game winning streak. It’s their longest skid since an 11-game slide Dec. 5-22, 2012.
Anthony Davis (back spasms) and Eric Gordon (knee tendinitis) are both out for the club’s final two games, while Tyreke Evans (knee) and Brian Roberts (ankle) are day-to-day after leaving Friday’s loss.
Neither played in Saturday’s 111-104 defeat at Houston, where New Orleans dressed only eight healthy players. The Pelicans were missing their top seven scorers with Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith already sidelined.
Nonetheless, Luke Babbitt scored a career-high 24 and helped them to an eight-point lead with less than three minutes remaining, but Houston ended the game on a 15-0 run. Austin Rivers and Anthony Morrow each added 20 points.
"We’re out there playing hard, playing unselfishly," Babbitt told the team’s website after making his sixth career start. "That’s what coach (Monty Williams) is preaching. We’re buying into that. It doesn’t matter who’s out there – guys have to step up. That’s just kind of the way it is right now."
Serge Ibaka has blocked 15 shots over his last three contests, including a season-high eight Friday against the Pelicans.
The Thunder have dropped four of six on the road but have won six of their last seven trips to New Orleans.