(AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to pile up wins, but Kevin Durant still feels the defending Western Conference champs need to start games better.
The Cleveland Cavaliers need to find a way to sustain their first-quarter success and improve their defense.
Oklahoma City goes for a fourth consecutive victory Sunday night when the Cavaliers continue their season-high six-game trip.
Coming off their first back-to-back sweep of the season, the Thunder (4-2) will play their fourth game in six days on Sunday, with another game Monday at Detroit.
Durant, though, is expecting a more energetic start against Cleveland (2-4) after he and Russell Westbrook went scoreless for the first 10 minutes of Friday’s 105-94 victory over the Pistons.
“It was one of those games where you just have to fight through. And I think we did that the past two nights (Oklahoma City won 97-91 at Chicago on Thursday),” Durant told the Thunder’s official website. “We have to find a way to come in with a lot more energy to start the game versus Cleveland, and we’ll be fine.”
However, the first quarter has been Oklahoma City’s worst in terms of offensive production. The Thunder are hitting 45.2 percent of their shots and averaging 24.0 points during that period.
The first three minutes have been particularly challenging, as Oklahoma City is scoring an average of 4.8 points on 40 percent shooting.
Cleveland is one of the NBA’s best in that opening 180-second span, making 58.6 percent of its shots and scoring an average of 7.0 points. Coach Byron Scott realizes the Cavs’ offense can’t keep clicking like that to the final buzzer, but he does expect much better defense throughout the game.
The Cavs are ranked among the league’s worst in scoring defense (103.0 ppg) and field goal defense (50.1 percent) after giving up a 26-point second-quarter lead in Friday’s 107-105 loss to Phoenix.
“The story doesn’t change. It’s on the defensive end,” Scott said. “Twelve good minutes, it’s as simple as that. I thought from the second quarter on we just played lackadaisical, just real loose with the basketball (with a season high-tying 21 turnovers) and that team, they just kept playing hard.”
The Cavs can expect a similar effort from the Thunder, who are holding teams to 91.0 points on 39.6 percent shooting during their winning streak.
“Defense, that’s what we take pride in,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said.
Still, slowing down Kyrie Irving and rookie Dion Waiters could be a challenge for Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha.
Irving is averaging 24.0 points with 8.0 assists during the first four games of the trip, while Waiters is averaging 19.0 points with 13 3-pointers in 23 tries.
Thunder newcomer Kevin Martin is 16 of 31 from long range, but Durant and Westbrook are a combined 12 for 41 (29.3 percent).
Durant is among the league’s worst with 4.8 turnovers per game, while Westbrook is shooting a career-low 36.4 percent.
Serge Ibaka, though, is giving Oklahoma City a nice offensive boost. The big man finished with a career-best 25 points Friday and has 77 in the last four games, which is second to Durant’s 86 during that stretch for the Thunder.
Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins could have their hands full with Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, who is scoring 14.0 points per game with 14.0 rebounds.
In their last visit to Oklahoma City, the Cavaliers snapped the Thunder’s 14-game home winning streak with a 96-90 victory on March 9.
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