By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — For a team as successful as the Oklahoma City Thunder has been the past few years, regular-season accomplishments mean very little. Anything outside of an NBA title turns into white noise at this point.
However, the Thunder still recognize big moments when they occur.
When Oklahoma City defeated the Sacramento Kings 104-95 Monday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder reached a couple of franchise milestones. Not only did they clinch the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, but they also reached the 60-win plateau for the first time since coming to Oklahoma City.
“It feels good,” Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We have never done it here before. It’s new to us, but it feels good. It shows progression as a franchise every single year.”
No matter what they do in the regular-season finale Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Thunder (60-21) know they will have home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference
Meanwhile, the Kings (28-53) lost for the seventh time in their past eight games. But they at least tried to make a contest of it.
After trailing by 24 at one point, Sacramento found itself down only 12 points in the fourth. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks had to bring Westbrook and Durant back into the game to close the night out.
With three minutes remaining, Durant hit a driving layup and had a few words for the Kings’ bench as he went back up court. After the Kings’ Travis Outlaw came up with a steal and dunk, Westbrook collected his second technical of the night and was ejected from the game.
Even so, that wasn’t enough to slow the Thunder down. With under a minute left, Serge Ibaka and Durant scored the next four points to put the game out of reach.
Durant led all scorers with 29 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. He hit 10 of 16 shots. He needs 70 points in final game to hold onto to his scoring title, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks has already promised his starters will play very few minutes Wednesday.
“I guarantee you he won’t get it,” Brooks said. “I give Kevin a lot of credit, that’s never been a focus. He wants to win a championship.”
Westbrook posted 21 points on 8-for-19 shooting. He also had eight assists and three steals. Daniel Orton and Reggie Jackson came off the bench to score 10 points each, and Ronnie Brewer collected 13 rebounds.
Isaiah Thomas paced the Kings with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Outlaw added 15 points off the bench and Cole Aldrich had 12 points and 13 boards. DeMarcus Cousins was held to seven points and six rebounds in the defeat.
A bad season got worse for the Kings when guard Tyreke Evans strained his left quad late in the first quarter. He had to be helped back into the locker room and didn’t return. Smart said Evans will not play in the final game of the season.
Despite the loss of its second-leading scorer and missing 14 of its 21 shots, Sacramento only trailed Oklahoma City 25-19 after one quarter of action.
Led by Durant, the Thunder began to put some space between themselves and the Kings. He hit back to back 3-pointers and gave the home team a 14-point advantage.
Westbrook added to the highlight film with a ferocious block and a dunk over Jimmer Fredette, then tossed an alley oop to Durant.
Yet each time Oklahoma City tried to pull away, the Kings kept scraping back. Isaiah Thomas drained a 3-pointer right before halftime to cut the Thunder’s lead to 54-43.
But in the end, Sacramento didn’t have enough weapons to slow the Thunder down on their march to become the 68th team in NBA history to win 60 games.
“To win 60 games is quite an accomplishment,” Brooks said. “We are definitely aware that it doesn’t happen often. But we still know there is a lot of work to do. It’s a great accomplishment, but it’s not something we walk around and want to tell the world how good we are.”
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