Nets hit the road with playoffs in view
Leading into Wednesday night's home game against the Brooklyn Nets, most of the attention surrounding the Oklahoma City Thunder was focused on an incident during Monday night's game in Utah.
During the Thunder's 98-89 win over the Jazz, Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook engaged with a fan, yelling profanities directed toward him and his wife.
"If I had to do it again, I would say the exact same thing, because I truly will stand up for myself, for my family, for my kids, for my wife," Westbrook said after the game, alleging the fan used racial language toward him.
Tuesday, Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the NBA and the Jazz announced the fan had been permanently banned from their arena.
Westbrook was supported by players around the league, including by several Utah players.
Westbrook should be supported plenty on Wednesday, when the Thunder play at home for the first time in 10 days after going 2-2 on their recently completed road trip.
It begins a closing stretch where Oklahoma City will play 10 of the final 15 regular-season games at home.
The Thunder enter the game with little wiggle room in a tight group fighting for playoff positioning in the Western Conference.
The Nets come into the game having won four in a row. During that span, Brooklyn is allowing opponents just 95.5 points per game.
Brooklyn will enter Wednesday's game a half-game ahead of Detroit for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Nets blew out the Pistons on Monday.
"We were locked in and we're continuing to improve and turning in the right direction right now," Brooklyn point guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. "It was very important for the standings.
"Can't get too high with what's coming up, but we're definitely happy with the result."
While Oklahoma City is home for most of the finishing kick of the season, Brooklyn is on the road.
Wednesday's game marks the start of a seven-game road trip, a crucial stretch for a team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Five of the games on the trip are against teams currently in playoff position.
"I keep saying that we're ahead of schedule," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. "It wasn't, if you talk about the plan ... that wasn't in the cards to be in this battle right now. This group surprised me to be honest with you. They've played above expectations.
"So yeah, it's a good feeling, but now it's a nervous and an anxious feeling, because now we've got this new goal, this new thing with the playoffs. That's kind of a spark, a welcomed surprise."
In the teams' first meeting of the season, Dec. 5, Oklahoma City's Paul George scored 25 of his 47 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Thunder to a 114-112 come-from-behind victory at Brooklyn.
The Nets led by 18 going into the fourth quarter and were outscored 39-19.
George has struggled since returning from a shoulder injury, shooting just 22.9 percent from behind the 3-point line in the last four games after shooting 39.8 percent before the injury.
--Field Level MediaHome