Not long after the Thunder stole a three-point win over Golden State on Tuesday night, forward Nick Collison rose from his seat inside the visitor's locker room at Oracle Arena and provided some perspective on the Oklahoma City Thunder's early season success.
As he slipped on the matching jacket to his gray sweatsuit, Collison gave a brief reminder of where this team was four years ago.
“I remember when we only won 20 games,” Collison said of the 2007-08 Seattle SuperSonics. “That still doesn't seem that long ago, and I'll never forget it.”
That's as close as anyone with the Thunder will come to relishing the current ride, which has the Thunder off to a league-best 20-5 start going into Thursday's nationally televised game at Sacramento.
Oklahoma City is on pace to win 53 games in a lockout-shortened 66-game season. In a regular 82-game campaign, the Thunder's current winning percentage would put it on pace to win 66 games — four more than Chicago's league-best mark a year ago and five more than San Antonio compiled as last year's Western Conference No. 1 seed.
Thus far, the Thunder is 9-1 at home, 11-4 on the road and 6-1 in games decided by four points or less.
Yet, no one seems satisfied.
“I don't look at it as a moment to enjoy. I look at it as my job to keep getting our team better and focus on the next game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “At the end of the season, depending on how you do, that's when you can reflect back. We're off to a good start, and that's all we talk about. It's a good start, but you can't rest.”
Despite playing in the deepest conference and the league's toughest division — 12 Western Conference teams have at least 11 wins, and all five Northwest Division teams were above .500 and had at least 13 wins going into Wednesday night — the Thunder still led the conference's second and third seeds by 3½ games prior to Wednesday's action.
“There's a lot of basketball left,” Brooks quickly counters, “and there's still things that we have to get better at.”
But the Thunder's success can be seen beyond the standings.
Oklahoma City is ranked sixth in defensive field-goal percentage (42.7 percent), second in the league in blocked shots per game (7.6), fifth in opponent 3-point percentage (32 percent) and is tied for fifth in scoring differential (plus-4.72).
“We understand that we're a good team and that we're getting better,” Brooks said. “But I don't go home and celebrate with my wife after every win.”
Brooks stopped short of echoing coaches throughout the NBA and other sports leagues who insist winning is more of a relief than a joy. The only times Brooks hasn't felt good about a game is when his team's effort wasn't there.
“When we don't play at a level that we can compete and win, that's not good,” Brooks said. “But very rarely do we have that. You're not going to win every game, but you want to get your team a chance to win.”
Win No. 20 exemplified how the Thunder has toed that line, while also displaying how good Oklahoma City has been and how much work still is left to be done.
Against the Warriors, the Thunder got away with starting lethargic, playing stretches of poor defense, succumbing to a shootout and giving up an opponent season-high 48 points to Golden State guard Monta Ellis.
But, yet again, the Thunder tightened up down the stretch, holding the Warriors to 7-for-18 shooting in the fourth period while forcing six turnovers. The Thunder also played soundly on offense when it mattered most, making 10 of 21 shots in the fourth quarter, including a perfectly executed inbounds play in which Kevin Durant banked in the go-ahead bucket with 14 seconds remaining.
“We want to strive toward perfection,” said Kevin Durant. “We want to be one of those teams that are looked at as a really good team, and (against Golden State) we kind of had too many lapses. As a leader, I'm a little upset at myself for letting that happen.
“Of course we're happy about the win. But the stuff that went on in the game, we have to correct it and try to get better. We don't want to have games like that every game. We've got to get back to the drawing board.”
It's much more comfortable sitting down and starting at the canvas when you're off to a sizzling start.
Thunder at Kings
When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento, Calif.
TV: TNT (Cox 31, HD Ch. 730)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Three things to know
* While Sacramento and OKC rank No. 6 and No. 7 in overall rebounding, respectively, they rank 29th and 27th in opponent offensive rebounds allowed.
* These are the NBA's two worst teams in terms of protecting the ball. The Kings rank last in assist/turnover ratio at 1.03 and the Thunder is 29th at 1.10.
* Prior to Tuesday's narrow loss at Minnesota, the Kings had won three straight with wins over Portland and Golden State, the last two teams OKC has beaten.