OKC Thunder not concerned with top seed ... yet

by Darnell Mayberry Published: February 12, 2013

With nearly two-thirds of the regular season in the books, the Thunder again finds itself in a tight race with San Antonio for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Prior to Tuesday's game at Utah, the Thunder trailed the Spurs by just one game for first place. San Antonio is 41-12. Oklahoma City was 39-12 before playing the Jazz.

The team that finishes with the best record will earn home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference Finals. Last season, the Spurs finished three games ahead of OKC but relinquished both home-court advantage and a trip to the NBA Finals when they lost four straight games to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

For now, though, securing the top seed isn't the Thunder's focus.

“Of course coming toward the playoffs you always want to be the best team,” said Kevin Durant. “You want to have that home-court advantage. But right now, we're just trying to focus on us every single day and how we can be better and playing up to our standard, which is defense first. These last two or three games have been really great for us on the defensive end and setting the tone. So we got to keep it up.”

MARTIN RETURNS AFTER ONE-GAME ABSENCE

Guard Kevin Martin returned to the lineup Tuesday against Utah after missing Sunday's game at Phoenix with flu-like symptoms.

His return provided a big boost to the Thunder's bench, which had struggled mightily in the two games Martin has missed this season.

In a game at Minnesota, the Thunder's reserves scored just seven points when Martin missed the game with a thigh bruise. Oklahoma City lost by six. Against the Suns on Sunday night, the bench scored just three points through three quarters. The Thunder won that game by 28 points, however, and the bench ultimately scored 23 points in the blowout.

Power Rankings - Week 1
Rank Darnell Mayberry
Anthony Slater
1 Read a story recently in which LeBron James said he worked this summer on counters to his counter moves. Yikes! With or without Greg Oden, they're the favorites. But if he contributes at all, it could cover up a glaring interior weakness.
2 We know they'll be a threat at the end. How much do they care about the regular season? Doc Rivers finally provides all this talent with a well-respected conductor. My preseason pick to win the West.
3 Derrick Rose's jump shot is no longer a liability and his effort defensively looks fantastic Even after trading one of the NBA's best shooting guards, OKC holds the league's best pre-prime talent.
4 Prediction: Russell Westbrook will be back sooner than you think. Until Tim Duncan announces his retirement, write off the Spurs at your own risk.
5 Watching the Nets this preseason, it became evident how dangerous their role players are in addition to the collection of stars. Derrick Rose's explosive athleticism has returned. In related news, so have the Bulls' legit title hopes.
6 Blake Griffin is the key here. He needs to take a huge jump this season for the Clippers to have any shot at winning a title. An underrated Luis Scola and an if-he's-healthy Danny Granger join a rotation that pushed Miami to the brink last season.
7 Danny Granger will miss the first three weeks. That hurts. Indiana needs to integrate him back in quickly. There's not a less appealing game on your schedule than a date with Memphis' physical, rugged and menacing defense.
8 Prediction: Patrick Beverly supplants Jeremy Lin as the starter, if not on opening night then by Christmas at the latest. Can Dwight Howard return to his dominant 2009 Orlando form? This team's title hopes hinge on the answer to that question.
9 I have mixed feelings about the Iguodala acquisition. But with A.I. and Bogut, the Warriors could become a solid defensive team. If this was the mid-2000s, Brooklyn would be the title favorite. And their coach would be running the point.
10 They're a first-round knockout waiting to happen. If Steph Curry is having one of those nights, where 30-foot prayers are nearly automatic, they can beat anyone.
11 It'll take me a while to get over the firing of Lionel Hollins. I just don't trust this team nearly as much going forward without him. Carmelo Anthony finally made it out of the first round last season. It'll be tough to repeat that task in 2014.
12 Prediction: the Mavs ultimately will face the Clippers in a 3-6 matchup and deliver a first-round upset. Health remains the big concern, but the rotation is loaded: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, Pekovic and others.
13 Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio combined to play just 75 games last year. Here's hoping they can stay healthy this year. Gonna score a lot of points. Gonna give up a lot of points. Sounds like fun to me.
14 Kyrie Irving is by far the best player 21 or younger. He will get the Cavs into the playoffs. The Marcin Gortat addition was a good one, raising this team's ceiling. The playoffs are expected at this point.
15 If you didn't get a chance to catch Damian Lillard last year, do yourself a favor and check him out. He's a stud. Lots of young talent surrounding a potential cornerstone in Anthony Davis. If he makes a leap, so do they.
16 Prediction: Denver won't make the playoffs. Rick Carlisle and the Mavs going for a 14th-consecutive season at or above .500. Impressive streak.
17 They passed on Nerlens Noel  in part because of injury only to see Otto Porter Jr. miss the entire preseason with one. Yep, sounds like the Wizards. Andrew Bynum hasn't played a game in 17 months, but if he returns to some version of his old self, this team could surprise.
18 Anthony Davis got a superstar call in a preseason game against the Thunder. Sort of showed what awaits that guy in his second season. Josh Smith's steady and versatile contributions became underrated the past few years in Atlanta. Great pickup by the Pistons.
19 Get well soon, Kobe. If the bench comes together and Damian Lillard avoids the sophomore slump, this could be a playoff team.
20 Prediction: they get swept by Miami in the first round. Far less talent, way better chemistry than a season ago. A Dwight Howard-sized cloud has been lifted.
21 Looking for a reason for optimism? They went 17-16 from Feb. 1 on last year. Wouldn't be surprised if they unload the underrated Al Horford, pick up assets and enter rebuild mode.
22 Bucks just can't get off the treadmill of mediocrity. This year will be no different. New ownership brings a more optimistic long-term outlook. But this roster is no better than last season.
23 Some people actually like the Hawks going into this season. Not me. Another year, another average team in Milwaukee. The Bucks should be named the East's honorary 8th-seed every season.
24 Prediction: DeMarcus Cousins gets slapped with 20 technical fouls this season. I'm a Brad Stevens believer, but not in Year One of a massive rebuild. Long road ahead.
25 In his nine seasons, Al Jefferson's teams have gone 281-441. And now he's a Bobcat. The only real national intrigue regarding this year's Raptors squad is if and where they'll trade Rudy Gay.
26 Outside of Victor Oladipo's Rookie of the Year tour, there won't be much to get excited about here. Like the young talent on this roster. Future looks bright, especially if they snare a top prospect in next year's draft.
27 Only intrigue in Boston this year is whether the Celtics will trade Rajon Rondo. Maybe an eventual name change back to the Hornets will mildly excite the fanbase, because their roster sure hasn't.
28 Prediction: Trey Burke will struggle to adjust. Gordon Hayward will remain one of the league's most underappreciated talents, putting up big numbers on a bad team.
29 When you trade four healthy players for one injured one, it's clear what your intentions are. James Anderson will start, Daniel Orton may play. Cool for Oklahoma hoops fans, bad for the Sixers competitiveness.
30 Hope Andrew Wiggins likes cheesesteaks. A barren roster that continues to unload its leftover talent for future assets. Battling Philly for the tanking crown.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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