Oklahoma City finished last in the Northwest Division in each of the last three seasons, and its 74-172 record over that span was the second-worst in the NBA. Like most opponents, the Cavaliers had little trouble beating the Thunder in 2008-09, winning both meetings by an average of 23.0 points.
This season is shaping up to be quite different.
In Friday’s 102-94 win over Memphis, Durant finished with 32 points and 10 rebounds, while Westbrook added 23 points and seven assists in Oklahoma City’s third victory in four games. Durant, who has led the Thunder in scoring in 18 of the 21 games, is averaging 32.3 points in the last four.
“My teammates do a great job of encouraging me and getting me the ball, and I just try to finish for them,” Durant said.
The Thunder are three games over .500 for the first time since 2004-05, when the team was based in Seattle and finished 52-30. Oklahoma City, the second-youngest team in the NBA, has reached 12 wins after needing 50 games to accomplish that feat last season.
“They have a very, very good young (group) of basketball players that love to play the game of basketball,” James said. “We are looking forward to the challenge. It is going to be a good road test for us against a young, explosive team in their home building, and we have to come out with the same fire we did in the second half (Friday).”
The Cavs (16-7) played an uninspired first half Friday and went into the locker room trailing Portland 54-45. At the break, coach Mike Brown laid into his players, and they responded with an intense final 24 minutes to beat the Trail Blazers 104-99.
“Our will in the second half, led by LeBron James, has to become habit for us,” Brown said. “It has to be our identity for 48 minutes. That’s something that myself and LeBron need to capture.”
Shaquille O’Neal(notes) helped spur the second-half surge, scoring nine of his 14 points in the third quarter. He wasn’t around for the end of the game after being poked in the left eye by Portland’s Joel Przybilla(notes) with 2:47 remaining in the third, causing it to bruise.
O’Neal was taken to the Cleveland Clinic for precautionary tests and is expected to travel with the team to Oklahoma City.
If O’Neal can’t play, the Cavs—5-1 without the 15-time All-Star center— would likely need Anderson Varejao(notes) to step into a larger role. Varejao, averaging 8.0 points and 8.1 rebounds, had a season-high 22 points with 10 boards Friday.