Thunder, Kings to put solid runs to the test

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The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to bolster their position in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

The Sacramento Kings have been doing their best to get back into the playoff mix.

On Thursday night, the two meet in Oklahoma City trying to continue their upward trajectories.

The Thunder have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last month-plus, winning 13 of their last 16 games. Oklahoma City comes into Thursday’s game having won four consecutive, including all three after the All-Star break.

Sacramento comes in on a hot streak of its own, having won three consecutive games and six of its last eight.

The Kings have started their four-game road trip – in a span where they’ll play six of seven away from Sacramento – with back-to-back wins.

Oklahoma City hasn’t made it easy on themselves but keeps figuring out ways to win, including in Tuesday night’s victory in Chicago. The Thunder led that game by as many as 24 points, but that lead was wiped out by the time the fourth quarter started. Oklahoma City had to fight back to hold off the Bulls 124-122.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said his team is at a point where he’s making minor tweaks rather than overhauls to try to pull out their best.

“I think what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to make small, incremental changes toward getting better,” Donovan said.

One of those changes could be the re-emergence of guard Terrance Ferguson.

In the first seven games after he returned from an eight-game absence due to personal reasons, Ferguson had scored just four points combined, making 1 of 10 from the field before Tuesday.

Against the Bulls, he had 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting.

“I think it took him awhile to get back into the flow,” Donovan said. “His timing was off. I think he was fouling a little too much. I think his shot really wasn’t there.

“Terrance has always been a really, really good catch-and-shoot player, especially from the corners. … Hopefully he’ll be able to consistently keep getting better.”

That would add depth with the continued emergence of rookie Luguentz Dort, who remains on a two-way contract but who has become a fixture in the starting lineup since Ferguson was out.

Sacramento’s success recently has been at least in part to its quickened tempo. After the Kings were near the top of the league in pace a year ago, they had slowed considerably under Luke Walton this season dropping to No. 24.

But over their last five games, Sacramento was tied for seventh in the league in pace, heading into play Wednesday.

“With these final 28 games coming out of the break, pushing the pace was one of those things that we want to make sure, no matter how the season ends, we go into the offseason with that in mind,” Walton said. “We’re continuing to stress our transition defense and some other key points as well.”

Sacramento point guard De’Aaron Fox scored 21 points in Tuesday’s 112-94 road win over the Golden State Warriors for his third straight 20-point effort.

Fox temporarily left the contest with groin tightness before returning, and he is continuing to deal with a sore left shoulder.

“It’s motivating,” veteran swingman Kent Bazemore said of Fox playing through the ailments. “You can see him wincing out there, but he’s pushing through. It means a lot that he’s bought in. We have his back and he is still demanding a lot of attention, and dominating the game.”

Thursday’s game is the final one between the teams this season. The Kings and Thunder have split their first two games, with both of those meetings coming in Sacramento.

–Field Level Media

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