Two of the hottest teams in the NBA will square off Sunday when the Boston Celtics visit the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Both are 9-1 in their past 10 games, with the Celtics having won six consecutive games and the Thunder four.
And both were among the teams that stood pat as Thursday’s NBA trade deadline passed.
“I feel like we’ve got everything we need to just win a championship,” Boston center Enes Kanter said. “And we’ve just got to go out there and prove it.”
The Celtics had those expectations from the start of the season while Oklahoma City did not.
The Thunder have been one of the league’s biggest surprises.
“It’s good to know that we’re going to keep the gang together,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul said. “We’re going to make a run at this thing. We’ve got our group.”
Oklahoma City’s past two wins — coming off an unusual four-day break — haven’t exactly been pretty.
In victories over overmatched Phoenix and Cleveland, the Thunder shot just 28.1 percent from behind the 3-point line.
But Oklahoma City pulled out a pair of wins by a combined 13 points, in large part due to getting to the free-throw line twice as much as their opponents.
“We sort of play downhill. Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) and Dennis (Schroder) and Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) have the ability to get to the line,” Paul said. “When we’re aggressive right there, it’s tough for teams to stop us.”
The Thunder have taken an average of more than five free throws a game more than their opponents this season.
After going 4-8 in games decided by 10 points or fewer or in overtime early in the season, the Thunder are 17-8 in such games since late November.
“Earlier in the season we lost some of these games,” Paul said after Friday’s seven-point win over Detroit. “I think now we have the confidence. We know that we can get stops on call, and we know we can execute down the stretch.”
While the Thunder are the healthiest they’ve been all season, the Celtics are dealing with a rash of injuries.
Boston was down three starters in Friday’s win over Atlanta — Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis.
Theis has missed two consecutive games with an ankle injury while Hayward (foot) and Brown (ankle) have just been out one game.
Hayward is expected to play Sunday, while Brown and Theis could return Tuesday in Houston.
Without those three, there were plenty of opportunities to be had against the Hawks, and forward Jayson Tatum and rookie wing Romeo Langford took advantage.
Tatum had a career-high seven 3-pointers to top the 30-point mark in consecutive games for the first time in his career while Langford doubled his previous career high with 16 points.
But it was on the other end of the floor where Langford earned those opportunities.
“Coach (Brad) Stevens tells us young players that the way we get on the court is with defense, and him trusting us in the defensive end,” Langford said. “That’s what I work on, as well as my shooting.”
–Field Level Media