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Thunder 104, Kings 95

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 17, 2013 at 10:15 am •  Published: April 16, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s win over Sacramento.

  • That little “w” next to Oklahoma City on the standings page of NBA.com? It stands for clinched Western Conference. That’s what the Thunder did tonight in taking care of the Sacramento Kings. And now, for the first time in the franchise’s Oklahoma City era, the Thunder will have home-court advantage through the Western Conference Finals should the team advance that far.
  • “It’s possible we’ll need it in a series, in every series,” said Nick Collison. “So it’s big.”
  • Not only did the Thunder clinch the top spot in the conference, but OKC also won for the 60th time this season, marking the first 60-win season in Oklahoma City’s brief basketball history.
  • “It shows that we’re improving every year,” said Thabo Sefolosha. “It’s a big number. There’s not a lot of teams that can do it, and to be part of that group and just to get to that number is big.”
  • With a win in the season finale Wednesday against Milwaukee, the Thunder can finish with a .744 winning percentage. Win or lose, though, the Thunder will have increased its winning percentage in each of its first five seasons, from .280 in 2008-09, to .610 in 2009-10, to .671 in 2010-11, to .712 last year. Even with a loss Wednesday, the Thunder would finish with a .732 winning percentage.
  • “It feels good, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said Kevin Durant of winning 60 games. “We’ve never done it here before so it’s new to us. But it feels good. It shows our progression as a franchise each and every year.”
  • Here comes the but…
  • “All that being said, we’re still going to be judged by how we do in the playoffs,” Collison said. “We realize that, and that’s what’s important to us also.”
  • For one night at least, before fretting for the next two months over whether the season will even last that long, let’s toast the Thunder. This has been a special, special regular season run, one that so many never saw coming. Oklahoma City was written off, remember, in the wake of the James Harden trade. The West, many assumed, would go through the new look Lakers. The Thunder was supposed to rue the day it traded Harden. And yet, here the Thunder stands, a 60-win club, the best bunch in the Western Conference block. Job well done.
  • Sam (Presti) has built a team a great team of young players that are committed and always willing to do whatever it takes to push this team forward,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “When we made the trade early in the season, we didn’t lack confidence. We knew we had enough in our locker room to push each other in practice and…move the team forward.”
  • How did the Thunder do it? How did OKC overcome the loss of Harden five days before the start of the season and string together its most successful season to date? “I think we do what we do around here and just try to do the work every day,” Collison said. “I think we’re careful to not look too far ahead or look behind us. We’re careful to try to focus on what we’re doing today. And I think that’s why we’ve been more consistent this year.”
  • Sefolosha: “You’ve got to give credit to Kevin Martin, the way he blended with the team and has been playing for us since day one. And the rest of the guys, everybody has been doing a conscious effort of keep improving for the better of the team.”
  • Brooks: “Sixty wins, guys, I’m excited. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not a cool thing because it doesn’t happen often. Fifty is always a great number, and anytime you can get to 60 it’s good company.”
  • One thing that won’t happen this season is another scoring title for Durant. If Carmelo Anthony sits out the final Knicks game, Durant will need to score 70 points to win his fourth consecutive scoring title. “He has no shot,” Brooks said emphatically but only half jokingly. “I guarantee you he won’t get it.”
  • Brooks then turned serious. “I give Kevin a lot of credit because maybe 10 games ago, if he was really focused on trying to get it four years in a row he could have got it easily. Many times…he was trying to get a triple-double. And when you try to get 10 assists that means you’re not trying to score.”
  • Brooks added this on Durant. “Next year he can lead the league in scoring. But that’s never been a focus. He wants to win a championship.”
  • I asked Durant if he thinks he can get 70 on Wednesday. He clearly had no interest in even discussing the topic judging by his answer. “I’ll try if you want me to,” Durant said. My reply: “I’d love for you to try.” Durant: “All right. I’ll try to get 70.”
  • Much of the reason Brooks can guarantee KD won’t get 70 is because the coach isn’t planning on playing him enough for him to do so. “The guy’s are going to play very limited minutes,” Brooks said of his main players. Brooks went on to say he hasn’t decided who plays and how many minutes they’ll play. “We want to get our guys that are banged up healthy,” Brooks said. “That is the priority for every team in this league going into postseason.”
  • I can guarantee you Russell Westbrook plays Wednesday. Wolverine don’t sit.
  • My guess is Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka play 20 minutes against Milwaukee, 25 tops.
  • I also assume we won’t see K-Mart, Kendrick Perkins or Derek Fisher, none of whom played tonight due to various (minor) injuries.
  • Expect everyone to be ready for the start of the playoffs.
  • The Thunder’s first game in the first round will be either Saturday or Sunday.
  • The Thunder’s opponent will be either the Lakers, Rockets or Jazz. We’ll get our answer Wednesday.
  • Here are the scenarios.
  • Don’t ask me which team the Thunder prefers. It doesn’t matter. I can’t see any of those potential matchups lasting more than five games.
  • Sacramento, are you sure you want to keep that team?
  • With K-Mart out for the second straight game, Ronnie Brewer was the first to bounce off the Thunder bench. And once again, if you judged him solely by his shot attempts you left disappointed. Brewer missed eight of nine shots but grabbed a team- and career-high 13 rebounds. Mixed bag, no doubt. For the second straight game he had some hideous shots — one hit the side of the backboard — that were so bad he began playing hot potato with the ball. He couldn’t fire it to a teammate fast enough. Anything but shoot is what he seemed interested in doing whenever the ball found him in the game’s final 10 minutes.
  • But that’s now 20 rebounds for Brewer in two games. Four assists, too. The guy has a knack for getting his paws on the ball, either as a rebounder or defender who gets deflections. And he’s a nifty passer to boot, save that sky-high lob pass that Westbrook couldn’t even reach (although, amazingly he still managed to get a hand on it). But if you ignore his warts, Brewer might be a very effective player.
  • Daniel Orton played 22 minutes and scored 10 points with seven rebounds off the bench. Of all the Thunder’s big men, Orton is without a doubt the Thunder’s best finisher.
  • By my count, Westbrook missed three layups in the first quarter.
  • The missed layup by Brewer on a 3-on-1 fast break was as bad as it gets. Not because Brewer missed the layup, but because it was a 3-on-1 with Durant and Westbrook and the lone King back was Isaiah Thomas…who might be shorter than me!
  • Hope Tyreke Evans’ injury isn’t serious. He left the game with two minutes remaining after crashing to the court following a layup attempt. Replay clearly showed Tyreke’s left leg awkwardly bending back upon his landing and Evans clutching his left knee. The Kings broadcasters even said he was grabbing at his knee. Yet the injury report listed Tyreke’s injury as a strained quad. Go figure.
  • Old friend Cole Aldrich just might have been the Kings’ best player tonight. He scored 12 points with a team-high 13 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
  • I was curious to see what kind of ovation Cole would get, a light, medium or loud chorus of cheers. It ended up being medium, which, considering Cole is the closest thing the Thunder has to a draft bust, wasn’t bad.
  • On a great night for Aldrich, the only thing the rest of the sports world will see will be Reggie Jackson’s poster dunk against him on the highlights. Tough business.
  • Some guy and his girl were about to make a baby on the Kiss Cam tonight. Started off innocent enough. Then it slowly built more and more. First a little tongue action. Then the guy got out of his seat while still locking lips. And then he put his hands all over the woman’s breast. All the while, somehow the cut away didn’t come for a good five seconds. I felt like the cheesy music was about to kick in any second. Between girl-on-girl action, guy-on-guy action and tonight’s boob action, the Kiss Cam’s days may be numbered.
  • Despite the Thunder being without K-Mart and Fish, rookie guard Jeremy Lamb didn’t play in the first half. It was mostly due to the fact Brewer played 14 minutes and change in the first half. But it still was a bit of a shock. Lamb didn’t get in until the start of the fourth, and after a slow start he quickly got it going and again showed his scoring abilities, finishing with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting. Oddly enough, all his misses were 3-pointers.
  • Brooks on Lamb: “Jeremy came in and made a couple of big shots when we weren’t scoring in that fourth quarter.”
  • Just once I’d like to get a long look at a lineup of Jackson, Lamb, KD, Perry Jones III and Hasheem Thabeet. Only because that’d be some serious length.
  • Another dominant third quarter by the Thunder. That’s now three straight. Tonight in the third period, the Thunder turned an 11-point halftime lead into a 24 point advantage, its largest of the night. Although the Thunder ended up outscoring the Kings by only five in that quarter, OKC saw seven players score in the frame, dished seven assists on 12 makes, turned it over only once and held Sacramento to 8-for-22 shooting.
  • Durant on the third quarter: “We were locked in. We were trying to get great shots every time down and trying to play good defense and keep them out the paint. Coming into halftime, we talked about it and looked at some film. Transition defense wasn’t as good as we needed it to be so we just tried to make it an emphasis to get back and move the ball.”
  • In the last three third quarters, the Thunder has outscored its opponents 91-54 and held the Warriors, Blazers and Kings to a combined 30.3 percent in the period.
  • The Kings played a zone for nearly half the game. And the Thunder attacked it wonderfully, perhaps the best OKC has ever countered a zone. There was three, four and five passes, the ball bouncing around the perimeter and into the paint before being kicked back out to the open areas. Patience and precision led to quality shots, even if they didn’t fall. Of course, some of the success could be written off simply because it was Sacramento’s defense. But in terms of habit-building, the Thunder built some good ones against tonight’s zone.
  • Westbrook was ejected with 2:24 left to play after picking up his second technical foul. It was the first time Westbrook has been ejected this season. And with two techs tonight, Westbrook is now just one away from an automatic one-game suspension. Everybody freak out!! Good thing the count resets for the playoffs.
  • That’d be pretty terrible if Westbrook’s consecutive games played streak ever came to an end because of a suspension for too many technical fouls.
  • Jimmer Fredette, who came into the game as an 88.4 percent foul shooter, missed two free throws tonight. Both were technical foul shots.
  • Up next. Milwaukee on Wednesday.

-DM-

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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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