Hornets-Thunder Preview

The Associated Press

With a comfortable lead atop the Northwest Division as they bid to repeat as Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder aren't concerned about making the playoffs.

The immediate challenge is working Derek Fisher back into their rotation ahead of the postseason as they seek a second consecutive season sweep of the depleted New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday night.

It is the second straight season the Thunder (41-15) will lean on Fisher's veteran savvy as he seeks a sixth title. The 38-year-old point guard won five with the Los Angeles Lakers but came up short last spring when Oklahoma City lost to Miami in the NBA finals.

"I knew that I still wanted to play the game. I knew I still had the love, the work ethic, the passion," said Fisher, who played nine games with Dallas before asking for his release due to a knee injury. "The injury was a setback. ... But as I was leaving Dallas, I understood the risks that that could possibly be my last game or my last opportunity."

Coach Scott Brooks doesn't have a set role for Fisher, who last postseason played mainly on the second unit with current Rocket James Harden, but is confident his team will adjust accordingly like it did in its run to the finals.

"Minutes are going to be had, minutes are going to be probably taken away from many guys, and not just because of Derek Fisher. Just as the season goes on, sometimes the rotations become smaller," Brooks said. "In order to have a good team, you have to have guys that are committed to the team, and sometimes those things happen."

After a season-worst three-game losing streak, Oklahoma City has regrouped to win back-to-back games. The Thunder, who had allowed an average of 113.0 points their previous four games before Sunday night, stifled the Bulls 102-72 and held Chicago to 29.1 percent shooting, a season best defensively.

"We did a lot of good things, but at the same time, it's the NBA. Maybe they had a night off or something like this," Thabo Sefolosha said. "Credit to the way we prepared this game mentally, the way we came out, but at the same time, we can't see ourselves as too good.

"We did a lot of good things but we've got to keep it up."

Oklahoma City has won seven straight over New Orleans since a 91-89 loss on Jan. 24, 2011, and Kevin Durant has averaged 30.0 in that stretch while shooting an eye-popping 62.8 percent. He had 35 in a 92-88 home victory on Dec. 12 in the most recent meeting.

New Orleans (20-38) has dropped four of five following its 101-97 home loss to Brooklyn on Tuesday night, failing to overcome a poor first quarter and again struggling on the perimeter defensively. The Hornets allowed the Nets to make 12 of 20 from 3-point range, and opponents have made 42 of 86 (48.8 percent) from beyond the arc during this five-game stretch.

The Hornets will be without two starters Wednesday. Rookie forward Anthony Davis has a left shoulder sprain after colliding with Brooklyn's Brook Lopez under the basket late in the third quarter, and guard Eric Gordon will continue to sit out the second of back-to-back games for precautionary reasons.

The Thunder have won 17 straight at home against Western opponents, scoring at least 106 points in each of the last 11 and averaging 114.5 in that span. They also have shot 44.5 percent from 3-point range and 50.3 percent overall in those 11 wins.

New Orleans has allowed Oklahoma City to shoot 43.3 percent (26 for 60) from 3-point range this season.

Kevin Martin, who has hit 9 of 20 from long distance in those games, has averaged 21.0 points in the season series.

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