SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Entering the final challenge of this quick two-game road trip, Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn't want to use Sunday's stunner against the Lakers in as the measuring stick for his team's mental fortitude.
He wanted to define it by how his team responded one night later at Sacramento.
And after watching the Thunder outlast an ornery Kings bunch, 120-112, Brooks had learned everything he needed to know about his club's frame of mind.
“They are tough,” Brooks said. “I believe our toughness is much better. We are mentally tough and we are getting physically tough.”
The Kings, playing in what could be their second-to-last game in Sacramento, took a surprising six-point lead into halftime and led by as many as 10. But the Thunder responded by outscoring Sacramento 36-26 in the third period, holding Sacramento to 6-for-26 shooting.
“Serge (Ibaka) really came out in that third quarter and gave us the energy and effort we that we needed,” Brooks said.
Ibaka finished with a game-high six blocks to go with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Thunder moved to 55-26 with the season finale set for Wednesday against Milwaukee. Quietly, Oklahoma City is 19-4 since the start of March and can now prepare for the playoffs knowing things are clicking.
“Our confidence is sky-high,” said Kevin Durant, who finished with a game-high 32 points.
But, as usual, Thunder players are guarded to not let it go to their head.
“Everything we did in March and April is out the door when those 16 teams start,” Durant said of the playoffs. “The way we are playing right now, we are starting to kick it up. But we can get better on both ends.”
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WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PICTURE 1. San Antonio Spurs (61-19)Remaining games: Tuesday at L.A. Lakers; Wednesday at Phoenix. 2. Dallas Mavericks (56-25) Remaining game: Wednesday vs. New Orleans. 3. Los Angeles Lakers (55-25) Remaining games: Tuesday vs. San Antonio; Wednesday at Sacramento. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-26) Remaining games: Wednesday vs. Milwaukee. • The San Antonio Spurs are locked in at the No. 1 seed. The battle for the 2, 3 and 4 seeds remains up in the air. • The only way for Dallas to win the No. 2 seed is if it finishes alone with the second-best record in the Western Conference. The Mavs are eliminated during any tiebreaker with either the Lakers or Thunder because they are not a division winner, while LA and OKC are. • The Thunder will earn the No. 2 seed if it wins its final two games and the Lakers lose their final two games. OKC is guaranteed the No. 2 seed by finishing by itself with the second-best record or by being tied with only the Mavericks. • The Lakers are in the best position to earn the second seed. Los Angeles owns the tiebreaker over Dallas by virtue of being a division winner and over Oklahoma City because of a 2-1 head-to-head season series win. • If the teams finish in a three-way tie for the second-best record in the West, Dallas would be eliminated as a non-division winner, and the Lakers would finish above the Thunder because of the season series win.