NEW YORK (AP) – Playing without the NBA’s leading scorer, the Oklahoma City Thunder needed three overtimes to defeat the lowly New Jersey Nets earlier this month. They seemingly shouldn’t have as much trouble in a rematch with Kevin Durant healthy.
Durant, who overwhelmed the Nets last season, looks to lead the Thunder to a fifth straight victory in this series Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
Durant sat out the Thunder’s 123-120 triple-overtime victory at New Jersey on Dec. 1 with a sprained left knee. He was sidelined again two nights later in a loss to Toronto, but has been in the lineup for the last 12 games, leading Oklahoma City (21-11) to eight victories.
With Durant out in the first meeting with the Nets, Russell Westbrook did a phenomenal job of carrying the Thunder. Westbrook finished with 38 points, a career-best 15 rebounds and nine assists, and scored all of Oklahoma City’s 13 points in the third overtime. Jeff Green also stepped up, scoring a career-high 37 points.
Durant enjoyed similar scoring outbursts in helping the Thunder sweep the two-game series from the Nets in 2009-10, averaging 36.0 points on 58.1 percent shooting. Oklahoma City’s four-game win streak over New Jersey is its longest in this series since reeling off six in a row Jan. 25, 1986-March 13, 1988.
Besides having a healthy Durant, the league’s leading scorer at 28.1 points, the Thunder should also benefit from playing at home. Oklahoma City has won six of eight at the Ford Center, while New Jersey has lost 11 of 12 on the road.
The Nets (9-22) also weren’t at full strength in the first meeting, as point guard Devin Harris sat out with a sprained left knee.
Harris, second on the team in scoring at 17.1 points, had 23 points and six assists in Monday’s 104-88 loss to Orlando. New Jersey limited Dwight Howard to two first-half points, but the All-Star center had 17 points and 10 rebounds after the break, helping the Magic outscore the Nets 50-34 over the game’s final 20 minutes
“We fought them pretty hard in the first half, the second half we came out and, for whatever reason, we were lethargic,” said Harris, who has scored at least 21 in three of his last four games. “We didn’t have a lot of energy and they got to the spots and shot the ball well.”
The Thunder also came out flat down the stretch in Monday’s 103-93 loss to Dallas.
Oklahoma City led the Mavericks 81-79 after three quarters but missed 14 of 18 shots in the final period and finished with 12 fourth-quarter points. Durant finished with 28 points, with just five coming in the final period.
“We just picked a bad time to miss shots,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Oklahoma City will try to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 31 and Nov. 3.
© 2010 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.