Thunder-Pacers Preview


The Oklahoma City Thunder's pursuit of the NBA's best record has stalled with a pair of defeats in competitive and physical games. They could be in store for another tight one with a visit to Indiana.

The Thunder try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season Friday night when they face a Pacers team seeking its fourth straight victory.

After easily beating Chicago 92-78 on Sunday to pull within one game of the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls, Oklahoma City (40-14) lost to Memphis 94-88 the next night and fell in Miami 98-93 Wednesday.

The Thunder led the Heat by 11 in the second quarter, but Miami seemed to wake up after two hard Oklahoma City fouls - a technical by Kendrick Perkins on Dwyane Wade and a flagrant assessed to Russell Westbrook for pulling LeBron James down from behind on a fast break.

"It was a physical game,'' Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "I like that. I'm sure they like it. Neither team backed down.

"We got physical players and that's how you win in this league. You don't win by not being tough. We're young, but we're not softies."

The Pacers (33-21) certainly aren't considered soft, either. They beat the Heat last week and have won three in a row to move into third place in the East.

"We've got a veteran group that's dialed in to a tight playoff race," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said after Wednesday's 109-96 win over Washington.

"This team could be really good but we've got to continue to stay focused. Any loss or any drop off and we could go back in the standings. We're happy where we're at right now and we want to continue to improve."

It could be tough for the Pacers to improve on their win over the Wizards, though. The team shot a season-best 57.9 percent and the starters hit 70.7 percent of their shots. Danny Granger led the way with 20 points, Darren Collison added 17 and Tyler Hansbrough and Leandro Barbosa scored 14 apiece.

Granger is averaging 26.3 points during the winning streak - 7.9 better than his team-leading average - and as he goes, so goes Indiana. The Pacers are 19-4 when he reaches the 20-point mark, but 14-17 when he doesn't, which includes two games he didn't play.

While the Thunder will be focused of shutting down Granger, Indiana has the difficult task of trying to contain Kevin Durant, the league's second-highest scorer at 27.6 points per game.

Durant had 30 against the Heat, but was hounded by James and turned the ball over a career-worst nine times. His carelessness with the ball wasn't the sole reason Oklahoma City lost.

The Thunder, who haven't dropped three in a row since last February, shot 29.4 percent from beyond the arc Wednesday after making 23.8 percent of their 3-pointers against the Grizzlies. They had shot 40.8 percent from the perimeter in winning their previous six games.

Westbrook, fifth in scoring at 24.4 points, struggled to find his rhythm versus Miami, misfiring on 17 of 26 shots yet still scored 28. The two-time All-Star point guard had no trouble against the Pacers last season, totaling 64 points on 57.1 percent shooting in a pair of wins.

Granger had nine points in a 113-89 loss in Oklahoma City and scored 30 in an overtime defeat in Indianapolis.

The Pacers, who are opening a three-game homestand, have won three in a row at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and are 10-3 there since Feb. 16.