Oklahoma City (45-17) at Sacramento (20-42)

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN, STATS Senior Writer Thursday, Apr 19, 2012 Tipoff: 10:00 pm EDT Fri Apr 20, 2012

The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to need some help to get the top seed in the Western Conference.

The Sacramento Kings didn’t give them any with their last effort.

The Thunder continue a five-game trip Friday night when they look to hand the Kings a ninth loss in 10 games in what could be the penultimate contest at Power Balance Pavilion.

Oklahoma City (45-17) trails San Antonio by one-half game for the West’s best record. The Spurs hold the tiebreaker over the Thunder and would have to lose twice and have Oklahoma City win out to drop into the No. 2 slot.

That scenario seems unlikely with San Antonio winning by an average of 18.2 points during a five-game run that includes Wednesday’s 127-102 victory at Sacramento.

The Kings (20-42) allowed the Spurs to shoot 58.8 percent - the second-highest mark against them all season - and were outscored by 24 in the second half.

“They executed better than us in the third quarter, that’s what happened,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “They ran their stuff to perfection and took us out of our game.”

Sacramento and Oklahoma City have split two meetings with two remaining, but it’s hard to envision the Kings being competitive based on the last one. The Thunder won 115-89 at home last Friday as they led by as many as 32 points and held a 58-41 edge on the glass.

Oklahoma City began this trip the next night by beating Minnesota before losing Monday to the Clippers. The Thunder got back on track with Wednesday’s 109-97 victory over Phoenix behind James Harden’s career-high 40 points.

Harden had not scored more than 17 in any of his previous 10 games.

“James obviously had a terrific game,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He had everything going. He had his mid-range, he had his 3 and he had his free throw game on tonight.”

MVP candidate Kevin Durant had 29 points and 11 boards for his 17th double-double.

“It was a really, really good win,” Durant said, “a really good bounce-back win for us and against a team that’s trying to get every win to get into the playoffs.”

Russell Westbrook could be facing the perfect opponent to recover against after totaling 24 points on 10-of-32 shooting in his last two games. Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points on 56.8 percent shooting against Sacramento this season.

His counterpart at point guard, Kings rookie Isaiah Thomas, is averaging 20.0 points on 51.2 percent shooting over his last three contests.

Thomas’ emergence, though, has shifted Tyreke Evans to forward. Evans has struggled at times, scoring five points on 2-of-8 shooting Wednesday after getting a season-low two points last week against the Thunder.

“Since I’ve known Tyreke, he’s always been the primary ballhandler,” Cousins told the NBA’s official website. “It’s an adjustment. It’s part of being a pro. Part of his growth.”

The Kings have two home games left, and a tentative deal for a new arena has fallen apart. That has again opened the possibility for the team’s owners to move the club.

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