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NBA: ‘Eyes on the prize’ for Holmgren as Thunder clinch top seed in West

Chet Holmgren said the Oklahoma City Thunder are eyeing bigger prizes after Sunday’s win over a much-changed Dallas Mavericks team saw them clinch the top seed in the Western Conference.

Dallas rested all of their starters and a few key reserves as the Thunder claimed a routine 135-86 victory in their regular-season finale at Paycom Center.

Oklahoma City began the final day in a three-way tie with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves at the top of the Western standings, ahead of their rivals due to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Their victory proved Denver’s 126-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies redundant while Minnesota lost 125-106 to the Phoenix Suns.

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Holmgren, who had 13 points as one of seven Thunder players in double figures on Sunday, said the achievement was worth acknowleding but noted their job is far from done.

“I wouldn’t say we’re celebratory so much as just recognising the fruition of all the hard work that we’ve been putting in,” Holmgren said.

“We’re not in the position we’re in by accident. There was a lot of dedication and hard work that went into it.

“But we’re not celebrating, because what we’re trying to do, we’re not there yet. So, we’re still eyes on the prize, locked in.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander echoed those sentiments, saying: “It’s super surreal. It’s fun. Obviously, you play to win.

“It’s more fun like that, but I think it goes back to us chipping away at it every day and not worrying about the past or the future.

“Just chipping away, seeing where that gets us, and us taking that mentality has allowed us to get here. So, yeah, it feels good, it’s something to be proud about. We have a lot more work to do.”

Gilgeous-Alexander had 15 points and six assists in just 16 minutes on the court as the Thunder were able to limit the playing time of their star players, and he is in the MVP conversation after averaging 30.1 points, 6.2 assists and a league-leading 2.0 steals per game throughout the regular season.

Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault believes he has the best player in the league at his disposal, saying: “I don’t study all the players. I do see one of them every single night.

“There is not a night where I don’t feel like we have the best player on the floor. We’re a top-five defense, top-five offense. He’s a two-end player that contributes to both of those things.”

The Thunder and the second-placed Nuggets must now wait on the results of the Play-In Tournament before discovering their first-round opponents for the playoffs.

The winners of the Play-In clash between seeds seven and eight, the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers, will face Denver. The losers will play the winners of the seed nine versus seed 10 game between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors for the right to take on the Thunder.

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