Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 55 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled out a monster 12-point win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night.
In arguably his best game since returning to the lineup after knee surgery, Westbrook also dropped six assists and made four steals, whiling stamping the Spurs' 19-game win streak dead in its tracks.
The Thunder are now three games behind Tim Duncan and San Antonio for top seed in the Western Conference, after going 8-2 in their last 10 games.
Yet despite beating the Spurs, Durant and Westbrook aren’t the best team in the NBA.
That honor still belongs to San Antonio, not only for their streak, but who they took down in the process. The Spurs beat Golden State twice, Indiana, and Chicago on the road, as well as Portland, Miami and Dallas. That kind of a stretch can’t be marred by one loss.
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While the Spurs are still on top, several other teams are using the final month of the season to prep for, or make, the postseason, and rise up the power rankings.
Technically they could lose home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, with five of their last six games against .500 or playoff teams (Memphis, @Minnesota, @Dallas, Phoenix, @Houston).
2. Oklahoma City
Westbrook is sitting out Friday’s matchup at Houston, and is listed as day-to-day with a knee injury. That’s worrisome, but Durant already proved he can carry the Thunder near the top of the West without his partner.
Sporting the best offense in the league, the Clippers are 2.5 back of the Thunder for second in the West and only face two playoff teams in their last five games. Watch out, OKC.
The slide early last month appears to behind LeBron and company, but their opponents during the Heat’s current four-game win streak won’t exactly prepare them for the postseason (@Detroit, @Milwaukee, Toronto, Milwaukee again).
The Rockets have lost three-straight (all to playoff bound teams), but Dwight Howard has been out with a bum ankle for all three. Patrick Beverley’s injury leaves some concerns at point guard, but when Howard is healthy Houston is the biggest threat to OKC and San Antonio in the West.
The Blazers went 1-7 on the road in March, but picked up their play with two road wins over Chicago and Atlanta. They also missed LaMarcus Aldridge for a seven-game stretch last month. Thankfully, five of their last six are at home and Aldridge has ripped off three double-doubles in their four-game win streak.
An 8-10 record in March is an awful span for a Pacer team that didn’t lose their 10th game of the season until Jan. 30. Yet, they are well in contention for the No. 1 seed, which they will need to eliminate Miami in the postseason.
D.J. Augustin is getting better and better as the season progresses. He scored a career-high 33 points in the 13-point win over Atlanta, and in March he averaged 16.8 points and 40 percent from three. But this is still a Bulls team that doesn’t know who’s going to score on a consistent basis, and a very thin bench.
The highest paid team in the league found their stride in the new year, and are now the playoff threat no one wants to face in the first round. Have to beg the question: What if Kevin Garnett was saving his game for the postseason for one last hurrah?
At this juncture, the Suns aren’t even in the playoffs as they lose tiebreakers to Dallas and Memphis. But they’ve gone 7-3 in their last 10. Taking down Portland and OKC in consecutive games might be enough to boost their confidence for a playoff run.
The playoffs have already been assured, and next up is the franchise’s second division crown in their history. They’ll need to win six of their last seven, or get some help from Brooklyn. However, they face Milwaukee and the Knicks twice, and Philly and Detroit once. All very winnable.
A 5-5 split, including two losses to the Spurs, has the Warriors in danger of falling back to the No. 7, No. 8 or even worse. Thankfully Sacramento, Utah, and the Lakers are three of their last seven games.
The playoffs are firmly in sight for the first time in six years, and Bradley Beal looks like the lethal scorer who started the season with averages of 20.9 points and 44.7 percent shooting from three. Beal and John Wall could give a number of teams trouble in the first round.
The Grizzlies 3-0 record over Phoenix gives them the No. 8 see for now, but they have to keep the Suns at bay by improving their conference record. Memphis is 25-22 compared to 24-21 for Phoenix against West teams. Memphis faces five West teams in its final seven, and makes one last trip to Phoenix on April 14.
The huge road win over the Clippers was the best way to start their four-game road trip, and the last three games are versus Sacramento, the Lakers and Utah. Dallas will need all four of those wins with their final three games of the season against San Antonio, Phoenix, and at Memphis.
Four more wins and the playoffs are clinched for just the second time in franchise history, and first since Michael Jordan took over as owner. In theory, the Knicks could catch them for the No. 7, though Charlotte can get four wins by beating up on Orlando, Cleveland, Boston and Philly.
17. New York
With all six of their remaining games against +.500 teams, it’s hard to see the Knicks in the playoffs. But recent wins over Golden State and Brooklyn could be signs of life New York hasn’t seen since last year.