Impressive defense during a recent road trip helped the Oklahoma City Thunder hold off a surging division rival. They hope they can carry that trend into their longest homestand of the season.
The Thunder will try to win their season-high sixth straight when they open a stretch of six consecutive home games Friday night against the slumping Charlotte Bobcats.
Oklahoma City (44-23) has won eight of nine and is coming off a 3-0 road trip that ended with a 96-85 victory over Miami on Wednesday. The Thunder shot 39.8 percent but held the Heat to 38.5 percent shooting and outrebounded them 51-40.
Oklahoma City has managed to stay 3 1/2 games ahead of Denver, which has won 10 of 12, for the Northwest Division lead and fourth place in the Western Conference.
The Thunder are giving up 101.4 points per game, but they held teams to 83.0 points on 37.3 percent shooting during the road trip.
Oklahoma City has also done a good job of protecting its own court. It has won three straight and five of six at home, allowing an average of 95.8 points.
The Thunder are looking to win six in a row for the first time since a nine-game run Jan. 29-Feb. 21, 2010.
They already slowed the Bobcats (28-39) in a 99-81 victory Dec. 21, holding them to 40.0 percent shooting and outrebounding them 44-32. Durant scored 32 points and is averaging 29.3 in the last three meetings.
The Thunder have a good chance for another big defensive performance against the Bobcats, who have averaged 84.4 points in going 2-7 over the last nine games.
Following back-to-back wins, Charlotte fell 94-78 at Houston on Wednesday, shooting 37.2 percent overall after going 10 of 19 from the floor in the first quarter.
“Any time your best player has an off night, it’s tough,” coach Paul Silas said. “He got the shots he normally makes, but he didn’t make them.”
Jackson recently returned after missing three games with a hamstring injury. He averaged 22.0 points in his first two games back but has shot 7 of 28 over the last two while going 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
Jackson scored 20 points against the Thunder earlier this season and has averaged 23.8 in the last five meetings.
Charlotte cannot afford to have Jackson struggle for much longer. Despite their slump, the Bobcats are only a half-game behind Indiana for the final playoff spot in the East.
Charlotte visits San Antonio on Saturday to close a four-game road trip and then hosts the Pacers on Wednesday.
The Bobcats are 1-5 all-time on the road against the Thunder franchise, losing twice in Oklahoma City.