Magic-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 14, 2013
While the Oklahoma City Thunder are near the top of the NBA in almost every offensive category, their defensive efforts are paying off, too. The Thunder aim for a seventh consecutive home victory Friday night as they face the woeful Orlando Magic. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way, Oklahoma City (48-17) is second in the league in scoring with 106.5 points per game. The Thunder, though, also have proven to be a force on the defensive end, posting a 42.8 opponent field-goal percentage to rank second in the NBA. Winners of nine of 11, the Thunder have surrendered an average of 91.8 points over their last five games - 5.2 less than their season mark. They've been particularly stingy at home recently, as the last five opponents to visit Oklahoma City have averaged 83.4 points on 35.3 percent shooting. All of the Thunder's last 14 home games have been double-digit victories except for a Feb. 14 loss to league-best Miami. Their defensive prowess was on full display Wednesday in a 110-87 home victory over Utah. The Thunder, who shot 53.6 percent and limited the Jazz to 35.0, scored 25 points off 20 turnovers and held a 48-35 rebounding edge. "We did a good job of making plays and executing," said coach Scott Brooks, whose team has outscored opponents by an average of 23.8 points during its six-game home winning streak. "Our defense really won the game." Oklahoma City improved to 36-1 when limiting opponents to 98 points or fewer and 35-0 when holding them below 43.5 percent from the field. Brooks credited Kendrick Perkins with the Thunder's solid play on the defensive end. Though the veteran big man went scoreless with three rebounds Wednesday, Oklahoma City had a plus-25 scoring margin when he was on the floor - tops on the team. Perkins helped hold Utah leading scorer Al Jefferson to eight points on 4-of-13 shooting. "I think if you had to give a game ball you would certainly give one to (Perkins)," Brooks said. "He was a big impact throughout the game not only on his man but anchoring our defense. ... He's been doing it all year. He takes pride in his individual defense and our team defense." The Thunder appear primed for another good night defensively, facing a Magic team which is among the league's worst at 94.2 points per game. They've scored more than 100 just five times in their last 22. Oklahoma City is facing Orlando (18-47) for the first time since sweeping last season's two games as Durant averaged 34.0 points. While the Magic stayed close in both contests thanks to significant contributions from Dwight Howard, they could have a hard time keeping up Friday. Orlando is coming off an emotional 106-97 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, dropping to an NBA-worst 6-34 since Dec. 21. Jameer Nelson scored 21 points and Tobias Harris added 17 and a career-high 15 rebounds, but the Magic had no answer for Howard, who posted a season-high 39 points and 16 boards in his return to Orlando. "We competed and gave everything that we had, but unfortunately we came up short," Nelson told the team's official website. "This was something we needed, especially our young guys going through this atmosphere." Harris has averaged 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 10 games since coming over from Milwaukee prior to the trade deadline. The Thunder and Magic meet again next Friday in Orlando.
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