Thursday Throwdown

By Randy Renner

We've had the first part of the week to talk about it and speculate. Who do the matchups favor? What will the matchups even be, with questions surrounding who will and who won't play tonight.

What we know for sure is the two best teams in the Western Conference go at each other tonight. The time for waiting and talking and speculating is just about over.

The San Antonio Spurs are riding a 19 game winning streak but are 0-3 this season against the Thunder. In fact, OKC has knocked off the Spurs in nine of the last 11 games the teams have played (including playoffs).

With a win tonight San Antonio can all but wrap up the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, even a Thunder win still makes it difficult for the Thunder to catch the Spurs but that's where the chase has to start.

Lately, the wins for the Spurs have been coming with little doubt. After Wednesday's 111-90 home victory over the Warriors, the Spurs have won their last four by an average of 23.5 points.

"Our system is working," said Tim Duncan, who scored 15 points in 20 minutes.

Tony Parker led the way with 18 in 28 minutes.

The blowout wins have allowed coach Gregg Popovich to rest some of his key players in the second halves of games, though he wouldn't give details on his plan for minutes against the Thunder.

"We talk about that internally and we'll try to figure out what we want to do," Popovich told the team's official website. "I'm not going to discuss in a group outside of our guys."

While the Spurs will be playing on consecutive nights so conventional wisdom says the Spurs will sit at least one and maybe all three of their main stars but since those guys didn't play big minutes last night, Pop may go the other way.

The Thunder have been off since Sunday's 116-96 home win over Utah, their sixth victory in seven games and eighth in the last 10. They've tried to balance preparation for the Spurs with rest over the three-day layoff as they prepare for this Thursday-Friday back-to-back against the Spurs and Rockets and five games in the next seven days.

"It's important to get the work in, but it's also important to rest," coach Scott Brooks told reporters after Wednesday's practice. "Most coaches like me want to keep practicing and doing drills and scrimmaging and special situations. You also have to rest the body and the mind and our players understand that we have to utilize all of our days."

Brooks would like to be able to utilize all his players too and he's getting closer to that point.

Reggie Jackson has missed the last two games with a sprain in his mid-back and Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have been out for more than a month.

Jackson and Perkins participated in most of the Thunder's Wednesday practice, Sefolosha was still limited.

So could Jackson and/or Perkins play tonight against the Spurs?

"Not sure, not sure," Brooks said. "We'll just have to see how they feel." It's also not clear yet whether Russell Westbrook will play tonight (as most believe he will) or skip this game and play tomorrow night in Houston. Westbrook remains on his restriction of not playing in both games of a back-to-back. His minutes per game restriction remains at about 32.

Now days Brooks isn't usually available to the media after shootaround, instead preferring to wait until his pregame session a couple of hours before tipoff. So we won't hear anything from the Thunder coach until then.

Jackson has played particularly well against the Spurs this season while filling in for Westbrook, averaging 23.7 points this season in the three games against San Antonio.

The Spurs won't have a shootaround today so Popovich won't speak to the media either until just before the game.

One guy we know will play tonight is Kevin Durant.

He's averaging 35.9 points in the last seven games, and he was right at that average with 36 points in his last game against the Spurs, a 111-105 victory in San Antonio on January 22nd. That hasn't been the norm, though, as the Spurs held Durant to 22.3 points in the six meetings prior to that.

That average is quite a pat on the Spurs' backs given Durant's run of 38 straight games with 25 points or more. Michael Jordan's 40 straight during the 1986-87 season is the only streak better in the last 50 years.

The January meeting also featured a standout effort from Parker, who finished with a season-high 37 points in the losing cause.

We'll be at shootaround later today, Durant is expected to speak to reporters. You'll be able to hear what he had to say when we update our Gameday Blog early this afternoon.