DALLAS — If only it weren’t so painful, Kevin Durant would have forgotten all about last year’s rotten start that culminated with just 23 wins. "Seems like five or six years ago,” Durant admitted Friday. Winning can have that effect. With eight games remaining, the Thunder is wrapping up one of the finest turnarounds in NBA history, already having doubled last year’s victory total going into tonight’s game against Dallas at American Airlines Center. Three more wins will ensure that the Thunder matches the 10th-best single-season turnaround in league history. It’s a ride that has taken the Thunder from a relocated team written off as also-rans a year ago to a playoff-bound bunch this season. With a win tonight, the Thunder will officially clinch its first playoff spot since coming to Oklahoma City. "That’s something you’re always going to remember,” Durant said of the team’s turnaround. "Winning 23 games last year and now we have 46 with eight more games, it shows how we worked hard all summer as individuals and came into training camp and put it all together. It resulted in wins. It’s all about team here. That’s the reason I like it here so much.” What’s most impressive about this Thunder season is, unlike other teams with drastic improvements, Oklahoma City has done it without making a major addition. Boston, for example, set a record for one-year turnarounds in 2008 when it improved by 42 games and finished with 66 wins. The Celtics, though, acquired two future Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. San Antonio, second on the one-year improvement list with 36 more wins in 1998, drafted Tim Duncan and had David Robinson return from an injury. The Spurs also improved by 35 wins in 1990, Robinson’s rookie season. The help of similar greats such as Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and Dwyane Wade, have changed the direction of other franchises and ushered in single-season transformations. The Thunder, meanwhile, has a starting five that is the same unit that ended the year last season. The only additions to the core have been rookies James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor. It’s an attribute that suggests Oklahoma City is in store for long-term success. "If we keep everybody together, and everybody continues to work hard on their individual game in the off-season, I think the best is yet to come for us,” Durant said. History says the Thunder will indeed maintain its march toward the NBA’s mountaintop. With Garnett and Allen still in the mix, the Celtics won 62 games last year and will win 50 games this season. The Spurs won four NBA championships since 1998 and have finished with fewer than 47 wins only once since Robinson’s rookie season. Since 2004-05, Nash’s first season, the Suns have averaged 54 wins. In 14 years starting with the 1979-80 season, Bird’s rookie year, the Celtics won three championships and averaged 57 wins. Thunder coach Scott Brooks, though, knows nothing is promised. "We’ll have the same mentality of getting better and believing in what we do,” Brooks said. "Just because we’ve had success doesn’t guarantee success in the future. We’ll have to continue to work on our staples — defending and playing together.” Staff Writer Mike Baldwin contributed to this story.
Playoff Facts→When: First-round games start April 17 and 18. Second round starts around May 2 or 3. →What: Each round is a best-of-7 series. →Home games: Teams seeded 1 through 4 host Games 1 and 2. Lower seed hosts Games 3 and 4. If more games are needed, the higher seed hosts Games 5 and 7, the lower seed Game 6. →Tickets: The Thunder will sell at least 500 individual tickets, possibly more, for all playoff games to the general public once the matchups are announced. The number of tickets available will be determined by how many season ticket holders committed to purchasing playoff tickets. BY MIKE BALDWIN