Kevin Durant has been on a scoring tear of late. He could have a difficult time continuing that run against a Phoenix Suns team that's playing better on the defensive end.
Durant and the Northwest Division-leading Oklahoma City Thunder try to continue their push up the Western Conference standings and prevent the Suns from winning four straight at home for the first time this season Friday night.
Durant, the reigning scoring champ, has lifted his league-leading average to 29.3 points after going for 40 or more in three of the last four games. Facing a New Orleans team that is among the league's best on the defensive side, Durant shot 14 of 19 -- 5 of 7 from 3-point range -- and scored 43 points Wednesday to carry Oklahoma City (31-17) to a 104-93 victory.
The win moved the Thunder a half-game in front of the Hornets for fourth place in the West.
"That's why he's probably MVP of the league right now," New Orleans coach Monty Williams said of Durant, who is shooting 53.7 percent and averaging 40.8 points over the last four games. "You're putting a string of games together like that, you put yourself in a different class."
Coming off his league-best fifth 40-point game of the season, Durant will try to help the Thunder avenge a 113-110 home loss to Phoenix on Dec. 19 that ended their season high-tying five-game winning streak.
Phoenix won without Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus, who were acquired a day earlier from Orlando. The Thunder will have to face all three Friday, and Gortat could be the toughest to cover.
The fourth-year center is backing up Robin Lopez, but Gortat is playing nearly twice as many minutes than his teammate over the last eight games and is averaging 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds during that stretch.
Before scoring 19 with 11 boards in Wednesday's 92-77 victory over Milwaukee, Gortat had reached a career high in points in each of the three previous games.
"I already said many times, my confidence is pretty big right now," Gortat said. "I have a lot of fun from playing basketball, my mind is really free right now, comparing to the ex-team. It's just fun.
"Playing with Steve Nash, he's going to always find you. I would say he's 50 percent, at least 50 percent, of the success for me."
The 6-foot-11 Gortat has also given the Suns (23-24) a much-needed defensive presence in the post.
Phoenix, winner of eight of 11, is among the league's worst in giving up 106.3 points per game, but it is allowing 83.3 over the last three. The Suns held the Bucks to 31.1 percent shooting.
The Suns, whose last four-game winning streak at US Airways Center was an eight-game run March 14-April 13, had their six-game home win streak against Oklahoma City snapped with a 117-113 loss Dec. 23, 2009.
Durant led all scorers with 38 points in that game, and he's averaging 34.3 as these teams have split their last four meetings.
One of the stories of the first half has been Russell Westbrook's emergence as an All-Star sidekick to Kevin Durant. One note of interest is the effectiveness of each player with and without the other. While Durant's production is much higher when playing without Westbrook, Westbrook produces at a much higher level when sharing the court with Durant.