Updated: April 5, 2013, 3:46 AM ET

1. Staying On The Court Is Half The Battle

By Mark Haubner | ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

There are all sorts of stats, both basic and advanced, that accurately describe the excellence of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yet the most underrated number might be the simplest of all: games played.

Beyond being two of the NBA's elite players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are simply out there on the floor, night after night after night. Both players have played all 75 games this season. Durant has missed only 14 games in his six-year career. And the indestructible Westbrook has never missed a game, in high school, college or the pros, where he is currently working on the NBA's longest consecutive games played streak at 387 (plus 43 playoff games).

That was really the story in Oklahoma City's 100-88 win over San Antonio on Thursday night. Durant and Westbrook were out there. Manu Ginobili was not, and Tony Parker (two points) played only 25 ineffective minutes before leaving for good midway through the fourth quarter, with what Gregg Popovich indicated could be tendinitis in Parker's shins, on top of the ankle injury from which the Spurs point guard has been recovering.

AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTony Parker is ailing. Russell Westbrook is an ironman. Advantage, Thunder.

Viewed narrowly, the matchup of the West's top two teams was a rather aberrant game that proved essentially nothing about how a Thunder-Spurs playoff rematch might unfold (other than that Oklahoma City is pretty much unbeatable if Derek Fisher manages to knock down five 3s).

But in the bigger picture, the Thunder might well have taken control of the Western Conference on this early-April night. The reeling Spurs have lost four of seven in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch and have not been the same team since Parker first went down with his ankle injury March 1. San Antonio probably won't even see a rematch with the Thunder without a healthy Parker and Ginobili.

Meanwhile, in Denver on Thursday, the Nuggets lost Danilo Gallinari to what is feared to be a serious knee injury, and they've already been playing without catalyst Ty Lawson, who has a torn plantar fascia. It's a tough blow for a team that currently holds the West's third seed and has been one of the NBA's best since Jan. 1.

And don't forget that, for all the various dramas in Lakerland this season, nothing has been more damaging than poor player health to a team that was expected to be a major contender in the West.

Yet there were Durant and Westbrook on Thursday night, combining for 52 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists, but more than anything, they were out there. Westbrook, in particular, was able to dominate Spurs backup point guard Nando de Colo down the stretch after Parker went to the locker room.

As a result, this rather forgettable April contest could prove to be vitally important come early June, if the Thunder end up hosting Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they are 33-5.

Thursday's game put Oklahoma City in prime position to overtake the Spurs for the top seed in the West. The Thunder (55-20) still trail the Spurs (56-20) by half a game but seized control of the tiebreaker by tying the season series at 2-2. Oklahoma City holds a 2½-game edge in the next tiebreaker, conference record, and plays a more favorable schedule down the stretch, especially considering -- play it again, Sam Presti -- the Thunder's key players will be playing down the stretch, whereas Popovich's No. 1 concern is getting his team healthy.

It is worth noting that the remarkable multiyear run of player durability in Oklahoma City extends beyond Durant and Westbrook to the entire rotation. Serge Ibaka has missed only three games over the past three seasons. Kendrick Perkins has missed only two games in the past two seasons, after recovering from major knee trouble.

James Harden missed only 10 games in his three Thunder years. Even his replacement, Kevin Martin, who had missed an average of 23 games the previous five seasons, has played in 73 of 75 contests for OKC this season.

All told, in 2012-13, Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Perkins, Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison have missed six games combined. Six! Emerging backup Reggie Jackson has not played in 12 games, but those were all of the early-season "DNP-Coach's Decision" variety.

The road to the Finals in the West now runs through the defending conference champions in Oklahoma City. And that means it runs through Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, because you can be pretty confident they'll be playing.

Mark Haubner's work appears regularly on The Painted Area.

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