The Oklahoma City Thunder went unbeaten at home until late December before coming up short against the Toronto Raptors.
They’ll try to return the favor as these first-place teams meet at Air Canada Centre on Friday night.
Oklahoma City (50-18) won each of its first 13 home games to tie a franchise record before running into trouble in a 104-98 loss to Toronto (38-29). Kyle Lowry racked up 22 points and nine assists as the Raptors outscored the Thunder 29-14 in the fourth quarter, snapping a three-game skid in the series.
"Losses happen in this league," said Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who had 24 points but shot 5 of 16. "They beat us fair and square, you know?"
Oklahoma City has won two of three in Toronto, suffering a 111-99 loss on Dec. 3, 2010, with Durant on the sidelines. Another victory could be hard to come by, as the Raptors are 16-5 on their own court since Dec. 28.
Toronto returns home after winning 107-100 at New Orleans on Wednesday. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 31 points and Lowry added 23 as the Raptors outscored the Pelicans 26-15 over the final 12 minutes.
"I think this is one of the hardest playing teams I’ve ever played on," said Tyler Hansbrough, who pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds. "We play hard every night, and not every team does that. … We have to keep improving."
Toronto held a 48-34 rebounding edge, including 22-5 on the offensive glass that resulted in an 18-6 edge in second-chance points.
"This game was about mental toughness and physical toughness more so than skill. No matter who you’re playing, you have to bring that each and every night," coach Dwane Casey said. "These last (15) games are going to be about mental and physical toughness as much as anything else."
The Thunder are looking to sweep a three-game road trip after winning 102-95 at Cleveland on Thursday. Durant, who had 35 points, 12 boards and five assists three nights earlier in a 97-85 victory at Chicago, recorded 35, 11 and six against the Cavaliers.
Durant finished 12 of 21 from the field despite starting 1 for 6.
"I just don’t care if I miss," he said. "I had it in my mind that I was going to start the game off 1 for 10. That’s how quickly it can change, man. I thought I might be in for a tough shooting night, but I always stay aggressive."
Durant is averaging a career-high 31.9 points to lead the NBA. He has scored at least 25 in 33 consecutive games, the league’s longest streak since Michael Jordan’s 40-game run in 1986-87.
"He does it every night and his consistency is remarkable," coach Scott Brooks said.
Durant should get some help from Russell Westbrook, who is expected to play after sitting out Thursday to rest his surgically repaired knee in the first of a back-to-back. Westbrook is averaging 25.2 points and 8.4 assists over his last five games.
Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was held out against New Orleans due to a back injury, leaving his status for this game unclear. He was averaging 18.0 points while shooting 69.7 percent over a three-game stretch before getting hurt.
The Thunder are 11-2 on the road against Eastern Conference teams, while Toronto has won six of its last seven against the West.