OKLAHOMA CITY -- For a team as successful as the Oklahoma City Thunder the past few years, regular-season accomplishments mean very little. Anything outside of an NBA title turns into white noise at this point.
However, the Thunder still recognize big moments when they occur. When Oklahoma City defeated the Sacramento Kings 104-95 Monday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder reached a couple of franchise milestones. Not only did they clinch the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but they also reached the 60-win plateau for the first time since coming to Oklahoma City.
No matter what they do in the regular-season finale Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Thunder (60-21) know they will have home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Kings (28-53) seven for the seventh time in their past eight games. Coach Keith Smart is trying to get his team to understand that this is all part of the growing process in the NBA. He used the Thunder as an example of what the Kings should aspire to become.
"We had our lumps a few times during the course of the season," Smart said. "And we had some guys pushing through a little bit. Obviously, you want those guys to push through like the guys here have with (Russell) Westbrook and Kevin (Durant). But that's what you are looking for. It's a process. Look back five years ago to where they were."
Part of that process is to continue to battle regardless of the score or opponent. And the Kings had plenty of times they could have thrown in the towel Monday.
However, midway through the fourth quarter, Sacramento found itself down only 12 points, and Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks had to bring Westbrook and Durant back into the game to close the night out.
With three minutes remaining, Durant hit a driving layup and had a few words for the Kings bench as he went back up court. After the Kings' Travis Outlaw came up with a steal and dunk, Westbrook collected his second technical of the night and was ejected from the game.
Even so, that wasn't enough to slow the Thunder down. With under a minute left, Serge Ibaka and Durant scored the next four points to put the game out of reach.
Durant led all scorers with 29 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. He hit 10 of 16 shots. Westbrook posted 21 points on 8-for-19 shooting. He also had eight assists and three steals. Daniel Orton and Reggie Jackson came off the bench to score 10 points each, and Ronnie Brewer collected 13 rebounds.
Isaiah Thomas paced the Kings with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Outlaw added 15 points off the bench, and Cole Aldrich had 12 points and 13 boards. DeMarcus Cousins was held to seven points and six rebounds in the defeat.
NOTES: Cousins picked up his 16th technical foul in a loss to Houston on Sunday when he pushed Greg Smith. The third-year pro was set to sit out a one-game suspension, which is automatic under NBA rules once a player reaches 16. However, the NBA rescinded the technical foul Monday, and he was in the lineup against Oklahoma City. Cousins has picked up three flagrant fouls, been ejected four times and suspended three times either by the NBA or his team this season. "You want to get to where those things are all behind us," Smart said. "You don't worry about any of those things anymore so we can focus on just the game. That's what you are hoping for. We have to get beyond this kind of stuff." ... Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins (hamstring), Kevin Martin (back), Derek Fisher were inactive against the Kings. Jeremy Lamb and DeAndre Liggins were called up from the D-League's Tulsa 66ers. "We still want to play well no matter who is out there," Brooks said. "I've always believed that when teams don't play their guys, they are still trying to win the game. If we play guys that don't play a lot of minutes, they still want to win. They have pride."