Thunder Celebrates 60-Win Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2012-13 regular season will undoubtedly beam brighter among previous stand-out seasons.
Despite the naysayers who thought losing James Harden would result in the franchise taking a step backwards, the opposite happened. A quick glance at the team’s numbers reveals improvement in nearly every meaningful statistical category, not to mention an improved offensive rating (ranked first in the league) and defensive rating (fourth in the league). They have captured the Northwest Division title for the third season in a row. Even better, they clinched the number one seed going into the Western Conference playoffs.
Forget all of those things for now.
The Thunder franchise is celebrating a feat few NBA teams ever achieve: a 60-win season. That number may rise to 61 depending on the outcome of their final regular season game this week.
“To get 60 games, it’s quite an accomplishment,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You go into the season, you set some goals. We’re like all the other teams in this league. We want to strive for excellence.
“Not a lot of teams do it,” he added. “We’ve come a long ways through all the hard work our entire organization has put in.”
Brooks is right about that. A 60-win season is not common in this league. It’s a mark of excellence in an 82-game NBA season. Setting aside the 2011-12 shortened season, it’s only happened 18 times in the past dozen years. Considering a total of 30 teams (as of 2004) are vying for the top record every season, it’s clear the task to reach 60 wins is not only special, it’s difficult.
“It’s not something that we walk around and want to tell the world how good we are,” shared Brooks. “That’s not how we operate. We’re definitely aware that it doesn’t happen often.”
The Thunder blueprint on how to improve each year has been carefully followed over the past five seasons. The seemingly-mechanical progression of their winning percentage is a textbook example, yet it didn’t happen without considerable work being done. Look at these numbers posted by Oklahoma City: .280 in 2008-09, .610 in 2009-10, .671 in 2010-11, .712 in 2011-12 and .741 in 2012-13.
“We’ve never done it before, so it’s new to us,” said team leader Kevin Durant on the current 60-21 record. “It feels good to show our progression as a franchise every year.”
Oh yes, Durant. We may as well welcome him into the “50-40-90” club right now. For those who don’t know, this is an elite club that honors those players who end the season averaging over 50 percent in field goal percentage, over 40 percent in three-point percentage and over 90 percent in free throw percentage. Durant is logging 51.0 percent, 41.6 percent and 90.5 percent, respectively, and he’s averaging 28.1 points per game. He’s set to forfeit another consecutive scoring title this year – unless he scores 70 points in the final game – in favor of concentrating on other parts of his game. Carmelo Anthony has it wrapped up this year at 28.7 points per game.
“If he (Durant) really, really wanted to lead the league in scoring – just like there’s probably four or five guys in the league, if they really wanted to lead it, they can,” Brooks said. “KD, we know he can score 30 any given night, (like) LeBron (James), Kobe (Bryant), probably (Dwyane) Wade, Melo.
“I think it’s pretty cool he’s 50-40-90,” he continued. “I’m sure that’s probably more impressive, in his mind, than leading the league (in scoring) four years in a row. To be able to score as many points as he scores and shoot that well is pretty impressive. It doesn’t happen often.”
Back to the 60 wins. Has this number been on the Thunder’s radar all season long?
“Everybody in here is just thinking about winning every game, so that’s how we approach it,” Thunder guard Reggie Jackson told HOOPSWORLD. “Just try win as many games as possible, and get clicking on all cylinders for the playoffs. Sixty wins is a great accomplishment. A few us might have eyed it, but it’s nothing we really discussed.”
The San Antonio Spurs looked poised to capture the West’s top seed, but things started turning around in recent weeks.
“We’ve been playing well,” explained Durant. “San Antonio had a few injuries here and there, so that helped us out a little. We just tried to get better down the stretch, and I think we did that.”
After playing down their success throughout the season, Brooks finally admitted what the 60 wins really means to him.
“I’ve been counting it down since 45 wins,” Brooks said with a laugh. “There’s no question, I’m excited about what we’ve done this year. We’ve had a really good regular season. We want to play well in the playoffs and continue to build our team and build our habits and compete for a championship for many years. (Thunder general manager) Sam (Presti) has built a great team of young players that are committed, that are driven, that are always willing to do what it takes to push this team forward.”
Then he made a rare reference to the famous preseason roster change.
“When we made the trade early in the season, we didn’t lack confidence,” Brooks said. “We knew we had enough in our locker room that would push each other in practice and have a great training camp and move the team forward. Sixty wins; 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 sixty, it’s good company.”
So, two questions linger: Will the Thunder make a repeat appearance in the NBA Finals representing the Western Conference, and can they capture the ultimate title this time?