Raptors-Thunder Preview

The Associated Press

A three-game skid has cost the Oklahoma City Thunder their grip atop the Western Conference, but Kevin Durant knows it's no cause for alarm. After all, the losses were all close calls against stiff competition.

A home game against a lesser opponent could help them get back on track.

Durant and the Thunder try to avoid losing four consecutive games for the first time in three years Sunday night in their only matchup of the season with the Toronto Raptors.

Following last Sunday's easy win over Chicago to pull within one game of the Bulls for the NBA's best record, Oklahoma City (40-15) has fallen to Memphis, Miami and Indiana. With Friday's 103-98 loss to the Pacers, coupled with San Antonio's win over New Orleans, the Thunder dropped percentage points back of the Spurs for the West's best record.

"You can't panic," Durant said. "Three in a row is tough, especially late in the season, but you can't panic. We played hard all three games."

Each of Oklahoma City's last three defeats have come by six points or less - the last two were on the road - and against teams among the league's top 10 record-wise. The Thunder haven't lost four straight since April 3-8, 2009 - the end of their first season in Oklahoma City.

Durant finished with 44 points on 15-of-24 shooting against Indiana, but Russell Westbrook wasn't nearly as efficient.

Westbrook had 21 points but shot 7 for 23. The All-Star point guard is scoring 22.7 per game on 32.3 percent shooting during the losing streak after averaging 28.7 points and hitting 50.4 percent in the previous six games - all wins.

With Westbrook struggling, the Thunder, who are second in the league in scoring at 102.9 per game, have failed to reach triple digits in four straight. They're 11-10 when scoring fewer than 100, compared to 29-5 when hitting the century mark.

Oklahoma City failed to score 100 in either of its two games against the Raptors last season and lost both. Toronto was the only East team to sweep the Thunder.

The Raptors (20-36) have played sound defense in four games this month, yielding an average of 85.3 points while giving up no more than 92. They haven't had to face the toughest offenses, however, with contests against Washington, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Toronto might not have as much luck in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder are 23-5. The Raptors have dropped six of eight on the road against teams with winning records.

They entered Friday riding a season-best three-game winning streak and looked like they would earn another victory, but were outscored 33-17 in the fourth quarter of an 84-80 loss to the Cavaliers.

Andrea Bargnani had 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter but missed 13 of 15 shots thereafter. He finished with 19 points, while DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 28.

The Raptors hope point guard Jose Calderon returns after he sat out with a swollen right eye. With small forward James Johnson also held out, Toronto started two players from the NBA Development League versus Cleveland.

Johnson has dressed but not played in the last two games after starting 38 of the previous 40, averaging 10.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Coach Dwane Casey wouldn't identify why Johnson didn't see action.

"He'll be available to play (Sunday), he was available to play (Friday)," Casey said. "We chose as a staff not to play him. We're going build the program the right way, we're going to do things the right way, and we'll go from there."