The Oklahoma City Thunder will see some of the better teams in the league toward the end of the regular season, but for now they’ll try to take advantage of facing one of the Western Conference’s worst.
Oklahoma City looks to bounce back from a tough defeat Friday night by winning an 11th straight home meeting with the Sacramento Kings, who again might be without starting point guard Isaiah Thomas.
The Thunder (52-19) trail San Antonio by three games for the top spot in the West and had their four-game winning streak snapped with Tuesday’s 128-119 overtime loss at Dallas.
They will face the Spurs next Thursday before dates with Houston, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers and East-leading Indiana before the playoffs start.
"It’s good for us to get in those battles at this point, to understand the possession game, how important each possession is, and value that," said reserve Caron Butler, who finished with 10 points. "We’re learning each other on the fly still and I love what I see. We have to get prepared for the next challenge."
Russell Westbrook scored 23 points in nearly 33 minutes, just over his 30 to 32-minute limit because of history of right knee problems. Kevin Durant scored 43 points to give him at least 25 for the 36th consecutive contest, the longest such streak since Michael Jordan’s 40-game run in 1986-87.
”I’m proud of our guys’ effort and energy, coming back from back-to-back games,” coach Scott Brooks said. ”I can’t complain about anything we did.”
Though Oklahoma City has some tough remaining opponents, it also will face Utah on Sunday and Sacramento (25-46) and New Orleans twice each before ending the season against Detroit on April 16.
The Thunder have won eight straight and 17 of 19 meetings with the Kings, including both this season. Durant had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 97-95 road win Dec. 3 before finishing with 30 points and nine assists in a 108-93 victory at home Jan. 19.
Thomas had 24 points in the first meeting and a career-high 38 in the second, but it’s unclear if he’ll be available for this contest after sitting out Wednesday’s 107-99 loss to New York. He suffered a right quad contusion in Sunday’s 124-107 win over Milwaukee.
Sacramento sure seemed to miss Thomas, who sat out his first game of the season. Rookie Ray McCallum got his first start and finished with 10 points, hitting only 3 of 14 from the field.
DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 15 rebounds for his eighth straight double-double. The Kings, though, allowed the Knicks to shoot 54.8 percent and hit 15 of 26 from 3-point range.
”We know what they wanted to do but we have to go out there and execute (defensively)," Cousins said.
Coach Michael Malone wasn’t pleased after Sacramento had held its previous seven opponents below 50 percent shooting. The Kings are in for another tough task as Oklahoma City is among the league leaders with 106.2 points per game and 47.1 percent shooting.
"If you (allow) 55 percent from the field and 58 percent from 3, you’re not going to beat many people in the NBA," Malone said.
The Kings haven’t won a road game in the series since Oklahoma City relocated from Seattle in 2008-09.