The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to earn a spot in the postseason for the first time in five years. A solid stretch run could have them hosting a first-round series.
Oklahoma City looks for another dominant defensive effort and a fourth straight win Friday night when it hosts a New Jersey Nets team with the league's worst offense.
The Thunder (39-24) are tied with Phoenix for fifth in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind Utah for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. The Oklahoma City franchise hasn't appeared in the postseason since the Seattle SuperSonics went 52-30 and won the Northwest Division in 2004-05.
"We're not thinking about who we're going to be playing against or anything like that, but we're just happy to be right now in the playoffs," guard Thabo Sefolosha said following a 98-83 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday. "We definitely don't want to take anything for granted or anything like that."
Oklahoma City has won 15 of 18 behind a defense that is among the league's best in points allowed (96.3) and field goal percentage (44.0).
The Thunder improved to 23-2 when holding teams to 94 points or fewer after limiting the Hornets to 57 in the final three quarters.
"Tonight was another indication that if we just play with focus and all five guys are engaged defensively we make teams make the extra pass and make tough shots to score," coach Scott Brooks told the team's official Web site.
In the final 12 minutes of a 105-89 victory at New Jersey on Dec. 28, Oklahoma City held the Nets (7-57) to 13 points.
It would appear the Thunder have a good chance of winning five straight at home for the first time since Feb. 14-March 4, 2007, as they face a New Jersey team shooting 42.6 percent and averaging 90.7 points - both worst in the NBA.
The Nets, who need three wins in their final 18 games to avoid matching the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in NBA history, look to bounce back from a 96-87 loss at Dallas on Wednesday.
New Jersey was outscored by an average of 12.3 points in the first quarter of its previous four games but led the Southwest Division-leading Mavericks by 14 after 12 minutes. The Nets, though, were outscored 31-15 in the third and shot 31.1 percent in the second half to fall to 1-2 on their five-game trip.
"They came out and put their foot on the gas. But I'm proud of the way the guys responded," said point guard Devin Harris, who is averaging 26.7 points and 5.3 assists on the trip. "We got it to one, but we couldn't get enough stops to overturn it."
Kevin Durant, among the league leaders with 29.6 points per game, scored 40 in the previous matchup with New Jersey.
Harris and the Nets could also have a hard time slowing down point guard Russell Westbrook, who is averaging 18.9 points, 9.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds in the last 18 games.
Yi Jianlian, who matched a career-high with 29 points in December's meeting, is listed as doubtful after missing the last two games with a sprained left ankle.
The Nets are 0-13 on the road against the West.