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Thunder top Spurs, take control of race for top spot in West

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Associated Press
4/5/2013 12:26:30 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- A loss to rival Oklahoma City cost the Spurs control of the race for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs. However, that's hardly the chief concern for San Antonio with the regular season winding down.

That All-Star point guard Tony Parker was sidelined yet again in a 100-88 loss to the Thunder on Thursday night looms even larger.

Russell Westbrook scored 27 points, Kevin Durant had 25 and Oklahoma City held off a series of San Antonio comebacks, the last one fizzling as Parker sat on the bench for the last 7 minutes with a shin injury.

"I'm not going to talk about all my stuff. I've got a lot of stuff going on, but I just have to get healthy," said Parker, who was just working his way back into form after missing time with a sprained left ankle.

"It's no excuse. I just have to get healthy."

The Spurs lost for the third time in four games and relinquished of control of the race for the top seed in the West, despite still holding a half-game lead on Oklahoma City. The Thunder pulled even in the loss column and would own the tiebreaker if both teams won out because of a better record against the West.

"We're a team that's been through it. We went to the Finals and the Western Conference finals the last two years, so we know the importance of the playoffs," Durant said. "It's not like this is our first go-around. So, we know we want to play as many games as we can here in Oklahoma City."

Derek Fisher hit a season-high five 3-pointers and had 17 points, his most since joining Oklahoma City in late February, while fueling a big first-half run that put the Thunder ahead to stay.

Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan each scored 24 points and had double-doubles for the Spurs. Parker had just two points in 25 minutes, and coach Gregg Popovich pulled him after noticing him limping.

"When he started out, it looked like he had no energy to start the game and then as he went, he looked to me like he was limping," Popovich said. "And then (at the) start of the second half, we saw him coming across half-court actually limping one time, and that's when we pulled him and I said to him, 'Tony, you got to stop."'

San Antonio was already playing without sixth man Manu Ginobili (hamstring), who could miss the rest of the regular season, and fellow reserve Stephen Jackson (ankle). Parker wasn't sure whether he'd miss any time with his latest problem.

"We'll see," said Parker, who played 3 minutes in the fourth quarter. "I'll just talk with the medical staff and talk with Pop and try to make the best decision and make sure I'm 100 per cent and healthy for the playoffs because that's the most important thing,"

The Thunder took control with a 26-5 surge that started midway through the first quarter, then fended off a series of comebacks as San Antonio tried to rally from 20 points behind in the first half and 14 down in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs got as close as 87-84 following Duncan's layup with 5:54 to play, at the end of a 13-2 run that featured three baskets by Boris Diaw.

Westbrook hit two free throws on two of Oklahoma City's next three possessions, and Durant's 3-pointer from the top of the key provided some cushion at 94-86 with 3:17 left. The Spurs didn't make a basket over the final 4 1/2 minutes, getting only a pair of free throws from Leonard as he split on two trips to the line.

"Obviously, Tony's down, Manu's down, so it's a concern, especially in this part of the season," Duncan said. "But it's part of the game, so we've got to play through it and we've got to find a way to score points and not go through droughts like we did tonight."

The race for first in the West isn't decided yet, with six games left for the Spurs (56-20) and seven to go for Oklahoma City (55-20). Even when they met in last year's West finals, home-court advantage didn't hold up. The Thunder won Game 5 in San Antonio while sweeping the final four games of a six-game series.

"We've got to keep playing. You win this one but drop one tomorrow, you're right back where you were," Oklahoma City's Nick Collison said. "We have to continue to keep playing and try to win them all and see how it shakes out at the end."

While San Antonio has had an NBA-high 13 different players start games and only had its top lineup for 30 games this season, Oklahoma City has had its preferred starting five in 72 of 75 games.

"They've had it a little easier than us health-wise and we're still right in the mix. However many games are left, we'll see how it plays out and hopefully we can see them again in the playoffs," Duncan said.

Leonard had 14 rebounds and Duncan 11. Serge Ibaka had 11 points and 11 boards for Oklahoma City.

Fisher hit four 3-pointers during Oklahoma City's big run, which included 13 straight points immediately after Duncan and Parker checked out for the first time. Durant's transition drive pushed the edge to 41-21 with 7:57 left before halftime.

The Spurs started rallying back as soon as their two stars returned, with reserve Gary Neal scoring 12 points as the deficit dwindled to 52-44 by halftime. But Oklahoma City pushed the lead right back out to 67-48, only for San Antonio to score the final seven points of the third quarter to get within six.

"We just seemed to get right within striking distance and then not able to get over that hump," Duncan said. "Credit to them obviously but we just weren't on our game tonight."

NOTES: The Spurs and Thunder are the only two teams that rank among the top 5 in the NBA in scoring, field-goal percentage, 3-point shooting and free throw accuracy. ... The season series was split, with each team winning both games on its home court. ... Fisher had been 9 for 31 on 3s in his first 17 games with Oklahoma City. He was 5 for 7 in this game. "That's why you stick with your guys. ... He struggled earlier. He's really tough mentally and we want him to shoot those shots," Collison said. "Tonight, he got open looks and made them and that was huge for us. We needed them. The second group, that was pretty much our offence."

Russell Westbrook (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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