The Oklahoma City Thunder's most recent victory helped the Golden State Warriors clinch their first playoff berth in six seasons.
The Thunder can help themselves by beating the Warriors for the seventh time in eight meetings Thursday night as they continue their quest for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Oklahoma City (57-21), locked in a tight race with San Antonio for home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs, defeated Utah 90-80 on Tuesday. That game went final around halftime of Golden State's matchup with Minnesota.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson was informed during the break of the Thunder's victory. After relaying the message to his team, it ran away with a 105-89 win that allowed it to secure the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2006-07.
``He just told us we're 24 minutes from accomplishing what some of us have been waiting for our whole career,' said forward David Lee, who recorded his NBA-leading 53rd double-double and is heading to the postseason for the first time in his eight-year career. "It feels great, but we want more.'
The Warriors (45-33) have won four of five and lead Houston by one game for the No. 6 seed.
"People questioned us, and they should have. People doubted us, and they should have," an emotional Jackson said. "They underestimated the heart, the desire, the work ethic, the determination, the willingness to put in the time.
``I told them ... 'This is not our final destination. Celebrate that we got here, but this is not our final destination.'"
The Thunder also have their sights set on a deep playoff run after falling to Miami in the NBA Finals last season.
Russell Westbrook scored 25 points and Kevin Durant had 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists Tuesday, though coach Scott Brooks was more impressed with his team's defense.
Oklahoma City has held six of its last nine opponents to fewer than 90 points and ranks second in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense at 42.5.
``The stats say we are the second-best defensive team in the league and I believe we are,' Brooks said. ``We lock in on that end of the floor but you have to be able to score also. We always have this little thing that we talk about: Let our defense score points for us.'
Westbrook has averaged 28.3 points in four games this month and committed one turnover for the second straight contest.
``He doesn't get enough credit for his aggressive play,' Brooks said. ``He helps us win games - a lot of games and the way he plays. He attacks, he puts so much pressure on the defense."
Durant played more than 37 minutes against the Jazz and leads the league in that category. Brooks isn't worried.
"When you're 24 and have the energy he has, and the ability to play at the level he has, minutes is really not a factor," Brooks said. "We've never gone into a playoff series and said, `Man he's tired. He's beat up.''
Durant's 30.4 points per game in 20 career contests versus Golden State is his best average against any team. He scored 33 in a 104-99 loss Jan. 23 in the only meeting in California.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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