Nuggets-Thunder Preview

The Associated Press

Even with the playoffs about to start, the last thing the Oklahoma City Thunder want to do is rush one of their top players back from injury.

The Thunder could again be without key reserve James Harden when they conclude the regular season at home Wednesday night against the playoff-bound Denver Nuggets.

Oklahoma City (47-18) has secured the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, but it's uncertain when Harden will be back. Harden suffered a concussion when he took an elbow to the head from the Lakers' Metta World Peace in Sunday's 114-106 double-overtime loss. Averaging career highs of 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists, Harden will be re-evaluated prior to this contest.

"There are steps that we have to take. We just have to continue that, the process of doing all the steps,'' coach Scott Brooks said.

"We're not going to stop now. No matter who plays, we still have a standard that we have to make sure (we play up to a high standard)."

With Harden out Tuesday, Kevin Durant had 32 points and nine rebounds in Oklahoma City's 118-110 home win over Sacramento.

Averaging 28.0 points per game, Durant holds a slim advantage over Kobe Bryant (27.9) for the NBA scoring title.

"That's what the fans want to see, I guess,'' said Durant, averaging 30.3 points in 22 regular season and playoff games versus Denver. "But for me as a player, all I'm worried about is getting better.''

The Thunder have taken the last four meetings with the Nuggets (36-28) by an average margin of 10.3 points, but they needed overtime to win 124-118 in the last matchup in Oklahoma City on Feb. 19, behind a career-high 51 points from Durant.

With two games remaining, Denver can secure its current sixth spot in the West either with wins Wednesday and Thursday at Minnesota, or a Dallas road loss to Atlanta. Securing a playoff berth already stands as a big accomplishment for the Nuggets, who have surged from ninth place to sixth in the conference by winning nine of 13.

"I never backed away from the playoffs," coach George Karl told the Nuggets' official website. "I always thought we were going to be a playoff team, and I think we can still have a chance to be a good playoff team."

Denver looks for a third consecutive victory after a 101-74 home rout of Orlando on Sunday. Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee each had 17 points as Denver outscored the struggling Magic 57-30 in the second half.

"I feel like we're getting better every game and we're becoming a solid team to where we can play people who don't play so we can give our people a rest for the next game,'' said McGee, who came off the bench to become the 10th different Nuggets player to lead or share the team lead in scoring this season.

Ty Lawson had 13 points and 10 assists against the Magic, and is averaging 22.2 points on 57.1 percent shooting in his last five games.