The fact that the Thunder have improved as well is something few would probably have predicted.
The surging Spurs look to extend their run as one of the NBA’s hottest teams over the last month when they visit the Thunder on Wednesday night.
San Antonio (23-13) got off to the franchise’s worst start in 13 years with six losses in its first 10 games, including a 101-98 defeat at home to Oklahoma City (21-16) on Nov. 14.
As expected, the Spurs recovered once they got healthy, and they’ve gone 14-4 since Dec. 9, trailing only Cleveland’s 15-4 mark for the best record over that stretch. San Antonio won its second consecutive game Tuesday, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 105-85.
With Pau Gasol(notes) out and Kobe Bryant(notes) limited to 33 minutes because of back spasms, San Antonio shot 57.3 percent and outscored Los Angeles 27-10 off turnovers. Tim Duncan(notes) had 25 points and 13 rebounds while Tony Parker(notes) added 22 points and six assists.
The Lakers are just the fourth winning team the Spurs have beaten this season.
“We needed this one,” Duncan said. “Obviously they’re dealing with some injuries, and Kobe doesn’t play in the fourth quarter or whatever it may be, but it’s a great win for us. We’ll take it where we can get it.”
The Spurs have held their last nine opponents to 90.7 points.
Duncan was 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) from the field Tuesday, the fifth time in seven games he’s shot 60 percent or better. He scored 22 points on 64.3 percent shooting against the Thunder in November - San Antonio’s third defeat in its last four games against Oklahoma City.
Although the Thunder’s win over the Spurs moved them to just 5-4, it seemed to signal the team was making progress after winning 23 games in 2008-09 and 20 games the season before.
Oklahoma City has won eight of its last 10 and suddenly a playoff berth is not out of the realm of possibilities.
The Thunder are looking to win their third straight Wednesday after a 106-88 win over New York on Monday. They held the Knicks to 38.2 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers. Kevin Durant(notes) had 30 points - the ninth time in 11 games he’s scored at least 30.
It was the fourth time in the last 10 games Oklahoma City held an opponent to fewer than 90 points.
“Our effort is there and it’s making our defense work and our guys deserve a lot of credit for coming in every game and continuing to play defensive basketball,” coach Scott Brooks said.
The Thunder could be challenged soon, though. Seven of Oklahoma City’s last nine games have come against teams with losing records, but Wednesday begins a stretch of contests against some of the NBA’s elite. The Thunder visit Dallas on Friday, then host Miami on Saturday before going back on the road next week to face Atlanta.
“When you look at the schedule, we know we’re capable of beating anybody,” center Nick Collison(notes) said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, but it’s a lot more fun when you come in and you know that if you play well, you’ve got a great chance to win.”
Durant scored 25 points against the Spurs in November but went just 6 for 18 from the field. He’s averaging 25.5 points and shooting 48.7 percent in eight career games against them.