Warriors-Thunder Preview

Despite entering Friday night having played the fewest home

games in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder are leading the

Western Conference and sitting comfortably atop the Northwest

Division.

The Thunder appear to have a good chance to pad their lead when

they open a lengthy home stretch against the Golden State Warriors,

one of their favorite visitors to Oklahoma City.

The Thunder are 10-1 at Chesapeake Energy Arena but have only

played there twice in the last three weeks.

They’ve actually had as many games at Golden State’s Oracle

Arena in that same span. They beat the Warriors 120-109 on Jan. 27,

and Kevin Durant hit the go-ahead basket with 14.2 seconds

remaining to help Oklahoma City withstand a 48-point performance

from Monta Ellis in a 119-116 victory Feb. 7.

While the Thunder (22-7) have spent a lot of time on the road

lately, they’re about to re-acquaint themselves with the home fans,

with 10 of their next 13 games in Oklahoma City.

They open a five-game homestand against a Warriors team they’ve

beaten five straight times in Oklahoma City since losing the first

meeting there Dec. 8, 2008. That matches the Thunder’s longest

active winning streak over an opponent in Oklahoma City.

Not surprisingly, Durant has been instrumental to that

success.

The two-time defending NBA scoring champion is averaging 34.3

points in six games against the Warriors in Oklahoma City. His

career scoring average of 31.4 against Golden State (11-15) is tied

for his best against any opponent.

He had 37 points and 14 rebounds in the first meeting this

season, then had 33 points, 10 boards and seven assists in the

rematch two weeks later.

Although Durant’s team owns a 5 1/2-game lead atop the Northwest

– the largest of any West division leader – coach Scott Brooks has

one big concern.

Oklahoma City is averaging a league-worst 17.1 turnovers, and

its inability to protect the ball proved detrimental Wednesday

against Houston. The Thunder turned the ball over 22 times, leading

to 26 points for the Rockets in a 96-95 loss.

“The thing all season long that we’re trying to correct, and we

must get better, is turnovers,” Brooks said. “We’re in every game

and we give up the ball too many times.”

Despite their sloppiness, the Thunder still had a chance to win,

but Durant missed three shots in the last 16 seconds. He finished

with 33 points, eight rebounds and four turnovers.

Point guard Russell Westbrook had 26 points but turned the ball

over six times. The All-Star reserve is averaging a league-worst

4.4 turnovers, including 69 in his last 12 games compared to 64

assists.

In this season’s two games against the Warriors, Westbrook has

combined for 59 points with 18 assists and 16 turnovers.

Golden State will enter Friday’s matchup having played a

league-low nine road games (3-6) but plays eight of its next nine

away from Oakland.

The Warriors are hoping to have Ellis back at full strength

after he sat out the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 93-91 loss to

Portland because of an illness. Ellis, who averages a team-best

22.0 points, scored 10 on 3-of-9 shooting as Golden State’s

season-high three-game winning streak was snapped.

“A tough loss, but we move forward,” coach Mark Jackson

said.

David Lee picked up the scoring slack Wednesday, matching a

season high with 29 points. He recorded his second career

triple-double against the Thunder earlier this month, finishing

with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.