Spurs take on Oklahoma City Thunder in battle of West contenders
Spurs still without Tony Parker; Thunder have won 5 straight
One game separates the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder in the race for the Western Conference's best record.
The Thunder have won five straight and will look to pull even with a Spurs team playing without Tony Parker in Monday night's marquee matchup at the AT&T Center.
San Antonio (48-15) leads Oklahoma City (47-16) for the conference's top record, although it's debatable how important that may be since the Thunder didn't have home-court advantage in eliminating the Spurs in six games in last year's conference finals.
"It's important, no matter how guys try to look at it,'' Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. "You always want home court as many playoff series as you can. We are going in there to try to get the win, and it's very important."
These teams have split two meetings this season, with Manu Ginobili missing both. He knows the challenge that the Thunder possess.
"(Kevin) Durant is shooting great, scoring like always," Ginobili said. "(Russell) Westbrook is so fast and gets you off guard in transition with his speed. (Kevin) Martin comes off the bench, (Serge) Ibaka is shooting way better than last year or at least it looks like it."
The Spurs will again be without Parker, expected to miss four weeks with a Grade 2 left ankle sprain. San Antonio won its first two games without him before Friday's 136-106 loss to Portland, marking the franchise's worst defeat in Tim Duncan's 16 seasons and the second-worst ever at home.
"The team knew that even though we won the first two without him didn't mean anything," Ginobili said. "That's usually what happens when you have a player down, other players step up and the emotion but in the long term it's going to hurt you. So we need Tony back as soon as possible."
The 136 points were the most by a Spurs opponent at the AT&T Center. Now San Antonio must try to slow down Durant, the league's leading scorer at 28.4 points per game, and the Thunder, second in the NBA at 106.7 points per contest.
Durant's 21.0 points per game against the Spurs this season represent his lowest mark against any West foe. San Antonio guard Danny Green shared his thoughts on defending the superstar.
"I would probably make him, force him to his left a little bit, give myself a chance to contest his right-hand jumper if he does pull up for a jumper but I'm mostly looking for help," Green said. "I'm going to send him to Timmy if you ask me."
Second-year guard Cory Joseph has taken Parker's place in the lineup and will face the Thunder for the first time this season. He'll likely be matched up with Westbrook, who averaged 30.6 points over the first seven games of this 8-1 stretch for Oklahoma City before totaling 26 over the last two.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 38 points in Sunday's defensive-minded 91-79 home win over Boston.
The Thunder's only lower point totals this season were in an 87-83 victory at Portland on Jan. 13 and an 86-84 defeat to the Spurs in their Nov. 1 opener when Parker hit a winning shot at the buzzer.
These teams conclude their season series April 4 in Oklahoma City.
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