Pelicans-Thunder Preview

The Associated Press

After getting all of their starters back, the Oklahoma City Thunder aided their chances of holding on to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a victory over their closest pursuer.

The Thunder will try to move a step closer to clinching that spot Friday night by winning the first of two matchups in four days with the depleted New Orleans Pelicans, who won't have All-Star forward Anthony Davis for the rest of the season.

After dropping the first two games of a road trip, Oklahoma City (57-21) closed it with back-to-back wins and got perhaps one of its most pivotal victories of the season Wednesday, 107-101 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 11 rebounds and six assists after sitting out two of the previous three contests to rest his surgically repaired right knee. Kevin Durant had 27 points after ending his 41-game streak of 25 or more - the longest in the NBA since Oscar Robertson's 46 in a row in 1963-64 - in Tuesday's 107-92 win over Sacramento.

Defensive specialist and shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha returned in that game from a sprained calf that had kept him out for a little more than a month. Kendrick Perkins has played in four of the last five games after sitting out six weeks with a pulled groin.

"We're an older group. We've been together for some years. Once these guys get their legs under them, we're going to be in good shape," Westbrook said.

The Thunder can move three games ahead of the idle Clippers with three left for both teams with a 10th consecutive win and 14th in 15 matchups with the eliminated Pelicans (32-46). Oklahoma City would have clinched the No. 2 seed with a victory Friday if it hadn't split the season series with the Clippers.

The Thunder are one-half game ahead in the second tiebreaker, conference record, as Oklahoma City is 35-15 and Los Angeles is 34-15.

While the Clippers have three games left against West opponents, the Thunder have two versus the same team. They'll play at New Orleans on Monday after visiting East-leading Indiana the day before.

The Pelicans, losers of six in a row and four straight on road, announced Thursday that Davis will miss the final four games because of an ailing back and Eric Gordon will undergo left knee surgery next week.

With those players out, New Orleans got 35 points from its starters in a 94-88 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday. Jeff Withey had a career-high 17 points and Anthony Morrow, averaging 18.8 in his last eight games, scored 14.

"It's an opportunity and guys are taking advantage of it," Morrow said.

Davis, named to his first All-Star team this season, was averaging 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and an NBA-best 2.8 blocks. Gordon, averaging 15.4 points, hasn't played since March 21.

Davis sat out the only matchup with Oklahoma City this season, a 109-95 home loss Dec. 6, because of a broken left hand. Durant had 29 points and Westbrook contributed 25.

Durant had one of his six career triple-doubles in the most recent visit from New Orleans, a 119-74 rout Feb. 27, 2013, with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook scored 29.

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