Thunder get 60th win

Michael Kinney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

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.
"It feels good," Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant said. "We still have a lot of work to do. We have never done it here before. It's new to us. But it feels good. It shows progression as a franchise every single year."
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) lost 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 there were plenty of times the Kings could have thrown in the towel Monday when they trailed by 24.
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.
That wasn't enough to slow the Thunder down, though. With under a minute left, Serge Ibaka and Durant scored the next four points to put the game out of reach.
"I thought our guys did a good job," Smart said. "We had a group that got on the floor, made some plays to get us back in a game that was pretty much going downhill. I thought our guys did a great job of trying to battle this basketball team."
Durant led all scorers with 29 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. He hit 10 of 16 shots. He needs 70 points in the final game to hold onto to his scoring title. But Brooks has already promised his starters will play very few minutes Wednesday.
"I guarantee you he won't get it. That's never been a focus," Brooks said. "He wants to win a championship."
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.
A bad season got worse for the Kings when guard Tyreke Evans strained his left quad late in the first quarter. He had to be helped back into the locker room and didn't return. Smart said Evans will not play in the final game of the season.
Despite the loss of its second leading scorer and missing 14 of its 21 shots, Sacramento only trailed Oklahoma City 25-19 after one quarter of action.
Led by Durant, the Thunder began to put some space between themselves and the Kings. He hit back to back 3-pointers and gave the home team a 14-point advantage.
Westbrook added to the highlight film with a ferocious block, a dunk over Jimmer Fredette and an alley oop pass to Durant.
Yet, each time Oklahoma City tried to pull away, the Kings kept scraping back. Thomas drained a 3-pointer right before halftime to cut the Thunder's lead to 54-43.
But in the end, Sacramento didn't have enough weapons to keep the Thunder from reaching 60 victories.
"To win 60 games is quite an accomplishment," Brooks said. "We are definitely aware that it doesn't happen often. But we still know there is a lot of work to do. It's a great accomplishment. But it's not something we walk around and want to tell the world how good we are."
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."

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