With four days off, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had plenty of time to prepare for one of their biggest games of the season.
While the San Antonio Spurs won't be quite as fresh, they should have mostly everyone available.
The Thunder try to inch closer to catching the Western Conference-leading Spurs as these powerhouses square off Thursday night in Oklahoma.
After winning four of five, Oklahoma City (54-20) finds itself 1 1/2 games behind San Antonio with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season. The well-rested Thunder know winning this game could go a long way in their quest for the West's No. 1 seed, especially considering they would lose the season series if the Spurs win.
"To get four days off is going to help your body and help your mind, just to give you some physical and mental rest is always good," said coach Scott Brooks, whose team hasn't played since winning 109-99 at Milwaukee on Saturday.
"We know we're playing one of the best teams in the league, and we're going to focus on playing well against them. There's no doubt they challenge you in a lot of different ways, but it's good for us. It's always good to play against the best teams down the stretch."
Oklahoma City has outscored the Spurs (56-19) by an average of 12.0 points in taking four straight home matchups, including three victories in last season's conference finals. The Thunder won 107-93 on Dec. 17 behind Serge Ibaka's 25 points and season high-tying 17 rebounds, but that came between a pair of losses at San Antonio.
"I don't look at this next game like it's a must win," said Kevin Martin, who scored 17 points Saturday. "It's a game that we want to win, we want to play well."
While Manu Ginobili remains sidelined due to a hamstring injury, the Spurs could otherwise be at full strength. After sitting out Wednesday's 98-84 win over Orlando, Tony Parker (ankle), Kawhi Leonard (knee) and DeJuan Blair (stomach virus) are all likely to be available.
With those key pieces out, Danny Green stepped up to score 20 points and Gary Neal added 16 off the bench. The Spurs, who limited the Magic to 38.9 percent shooting, improved to 32-2 when holding opponents under 43.5.
After missing Monday's 92-90 loss at Memphis with a sore knee, Tim Duncan returned but played just 14 minutes and had five points.
"We wanted to jump on them and give some of our guys a rest," Green said. "It's always good to get the win first. The rest will hopefully help the team come (Thursday). Guys are sore and banged up a little bit. So hopefully they come out fresh."
San Antonio has lost its only three road games this month and also has dropped three straight when playing the second of games on back-to-back days.
While the Spurs will surely focus on slowing down Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, containing Martin could also prove key. The Thunder have gone 28-4 when he has at least 16 points.
Martin scored 20 in the Dec. 17 win but had 15 and nine, respectively, in the two losses at San Antonio.
Durant has averaged 22.7 points against the Spurs this season - easily his fewest against any West opponent and 5.6 below his NBA-leading mark. He scored 36 in Friday's 101-93 loss at Minnesota, then 30 against the Bucks.
Westbrook recorded his first triple-double of the season Saturday with 23 points, a season best-tying 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He's shot 34.8 percent in this season series.
The Associated Press News Service
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