With a renewed focus on defense after struggling at the end of December, the Oklahoma City Thunder opened the new year by taking a step in the right direction.
They'll try to keep it going without Kevin Durant.
The former MVP won't be in the lineup Monday night against Sacramento due to a sprained toe as the Thunder look to make it 15 straight wins over the Kings in Oklahoma City.
Durant sprained his right big toe in the second quarter of the Thunder's 109-90 win at Charlotte on Saturday, but still managed to score 29 points, grab 11 rebounds and block four shots. He's listed as day to day.
Oklahoma City has outscored opponents by 293 points with Durant on the floor this season and been outscored by six with him off, so it could be in for a challenge against a Kings team coming off its highest-scoring effort in 23 years.
But the Thunder (24-10) enter off a strong defensive showing after a four-game stretch in which they allowed 111.5 points per game and 48.4 percent shooting, including a 43.0 mark from 3-point range. Oklahoma City limited Charlotte to 34.5 percent and 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.
"I felt like our guys were really locked into the areas we need to get better. We showed a lot of improvement in those areas," coach Billy Donovan told the team's official website. "The things we were trying to do, I saw a conscientious effort for those guys to do those things."
Donovan's club will try to slow a Kings team that shot a season-high 60.9 percent Saturday while snapping a three-game skid with a 142-119 home win over Phoenix. It was their most points since a 154-98 victory over visiting Philadelphia on Jan. 2, 1993.
DeMarcus Cousins led the way with 32 points and nine rebounds, while Darren Collison scored 21 and Marco Belinelli 19. Rajon Rondo added 15 points and 15 assists. Belinelli has heated up by totaling 47 points on 18-for-28 shooting in his last two games.
"We're capable of being an elite team ... We want the best Kings team to show up every night," Collison told the team's official website.
That hasn't been the case in their visits to Oklahoma City, where they've lost by an average of 12.3 points during the Thunder's longest home winning streak versus an opponent since moving from the Pacific Northwest ahead of the 2008-09 season. It's also tied for the NBA's fifth-longest active streak.
The Kings (13-20), however, did threaten to end that skid Dec. 6. They rallied from a 17-point deficit and went ahead by seven before Durant scored six in the final 1:18 to lead the Thunder to a 98-95 victory.
Durant had 20 points and 10 rebounds but also committed 10 turnovers, while Russell Westbrook had a more desirable triple-double with 19 points, 11 boards and 10 assists. Steven Adams added 12 rebounds to help Oklahoma City own a 62-41 advantage on the glass.
He also played a key role defensively against Cousins, who managed 13 points while missing 15 of 20 shots. The Kings shot just 39.8 percent from the field and 7 for 24 (29.2) from beyond the arc.
Westbrook has averaged 31.0 points and 10.3 assists in his last three home games for the Thunder, who have won 23 of the past 26 overall meetings with the Kings.
Oklahoma City went 3-3 when Durant missed six games in November with a strained left hamstring.