The Oklahoma City Thunder have emerged as a bona fide NBA title contender, and their play just before the All-Star break only seemed to reaffirm that status.
The Thunder will try to maintain their Western Conference lead during a potentially difficult three-game road trip that begins Wednesday night against the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia 76ers.
Oklahoma City (27-7) entered the break on a five-game win streak and claimed its final two victories by 15 points apiece against perennial powers Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’ve just started to jell - young guys that love playing basketball, that’s all that we do. It makes it easier to come to work every day,” Durant, who was named the All-Star Game’s MVP following a 36-point effort. “I’m just blessed I’m a part of this organization. Everybody is just Grade A, and I’m glad we’re getting better as a group.”
The Thunder, however, still see room to improve, especially in taking care of the ball. Oklahoma City has one of the league’s highest turnover rates at 16.9 per game.
“I’m greedy,” Durant said. “There’s some games we lost that we should have won. But, all in all, it was decent. … We’ve got to keep working, keep improving. We can’t be happy with just being 27-7. There’s a lot of things we have to work on.”
The Thunder will begin that work during a Eastern road trip that will also take them to Orlando and Atlanta.
The journey starts against Philadelphia (21-14), which snapped a season-high five-game skid in its return from the break by routing Detroit 97-68 on the road Tuesday.
After averaging 83.2 points during its losing streak, Philadelphia had six players score in double figures Tuesday, led by Thaddeus Young’s 20. The 76ers also shot 50.0 percent in the win, 10.5 better than in their previous five games.
They also allowed their second-fewest points this season and lowest shooting percentage (31.6).
“The guys gave me a great gift with the way they played,” said coach Doug Collins, who left the bench between the third and fourth quarters after feeling lightheaded.
Philadelphia has had a more difficult time stopping the Thunder in recent matchups, allowing at least 109 points in each of the past four and an average of 111.8. That’s helped Oklahoma City produce a five-game win streak in the series, including back-to-back victories at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Thunder, though, won last season’s two meetings by a combined 11 points and needed overtime to prevail 110-105 in Philadelphia on March 9. Durant had 34 points in that win, including the final five in regulation, and has averaged 31.0 over his past four games against the 76ers.
Westbrook averaged 29.0 points in last season’s two matchups for his second-best mark against any opponent in 2010-11.
Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday averaged a team-best 19.5 points in last season’s series, and his career mark of 16.3 against the Thunder is the third-year guard’s best versus any opponent.