CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Russell Westbrook had a little extra on his plate Saturday night, with the Oklahoma City Thunder working in four newcomers and playing without injured forward Kevin Durant.
But the All-Star guard was more than up to the challenge, leading the surging Thunder to a 110-103 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Westbrook finished with 33 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds and took the game over down the stretch as the Thunder pulled away with an 8-0 spurt in the final six minutes.
It was a maestro-like performance, especially given the circumstances and especially given that the Hornets tried double- and triple-teaming him down the stretch.
Coach Scott Brooks marveled afterward at Westbrook’s ability to incorporate two new starters — center Enes Kanter, acquired from Utah on Thursday, and forward Kyle Singler, acquired from Detroit on Thursday — plus guard D.J. Augustin, also obtained from Detroit.
“Russell is a triple-double any given night,” Brooks said. “He just goes out there and competes, and he does everything on the floor. We kind of expected that.
“Russell’s been a leader for many, many years and he’s done a great job of integrating everyone into the offense. He understands the situation and he understands that we have a lot of new guys. His communicating on the court, at halftime, during timeouts, was great.
“He’s a leader and guys listen to him. That’s what he did tonight, and he gave us a chance to win this game.”
Westbrook, who came into the game second in the NBA in scoring with a 26.0-point average, said he takes pride in bringing his teammates together in such situations.
“I take pride in leadership,” he said. “Part of my job is to be a leader and to lead these new guys and the guys that we have already, and try to help us win games. I thought they did a great job tonight.
“All of the guys came in and contributed at a high level, especially with the circumstances coming in. It was our first game together, but it kind of looked like we didn’t lose a step.”
The Thunder (30-25) have won five straight and seven of their last eight.
They led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter but ultimately had to pull away again in the final six minutes. With the score tied 94-94, Westbrook and forward Serge Ibaka scored four points each in the 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 102-94 with 4:12 left.
Then two possessions later, Westbrook beat a double-team and found Augustin for a 3-pointer and a 107-98 lead that proved to be the dagger.
“I thought he (Westbrook) had the biggest play of the game when he drove and found D.J. in the slot for the 3,” Brooks said. “I thought that was a great play.”
Westbrook finished 12 of 27 from the field and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line, extending his streak of consecutive free throws to 43 in the last four games.
Ibaka finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Augustin scored 12 points, Kanter had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and guard Dion Waiters also scored 10 points.
Durant missed his 28th game of the season with a sore right foot.
The Thunder had a 59-41 rebound advantage with 19 offensive boards that they converted into 20 second-chance points.
“I thought the entire fourth quarter we did a great job of getting defensive stops, and that just allows us to get momentum at the offensive end,” Brooks said. “We did a great job of playing big tonight. Our bigs were rebounding the basketball, we were getting offensive boards and getting extra possessions.
“We have a lot of skilled basketball players. A lot of players that just want to play and help each other look good, and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Hornets (22-31) lost their fourth straight.
The rebound disparity bothered Charlotte coach Steve Clifford.
“If we are going to play like that, we are not going to win,” Clifford said. “I like our team and everything, but we need a physicality. We need a defensive disposition. We have to rebound, and we did none of those for any sustained period of time.
“Even without Durant, you cannot run up and down with them. They had 21 fast-break points and 20 second-chance points. That is 41 points. You have no shot.”
Guard Mo Williams, in his Hornets debut after being acquired from Minnesota, led Charlotte with 24 points and 12 assists. The Hornets also got 20 points from forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and 20 points and 12 rebounds from center Al Jefferson.
“I swear sometimes the ball just bounced right to them,” Jefferson said. “What hurt was the long rebounds. We’ve just got to do a better job of team rebounding. You hate when you look back at the end of the game and you give up 20 second-chance and 21 fast-break points. If we hadn’t given that up, we would have won that game.”
NOTES: Hornets G Mo Williams hit five 3-pointers to surpass 1,000 in his career. … The Hornets continue to be without G Kemba Walker (left knee surgery) and C Bismack Biyombo (right knee contusion). … The Thunder were also without C Steven Adams (fractured fourth metacarpal, right hand). … The Hornets hadn’t played since a 106-78 loss to Detroit on Feb. 10. … This was the second and final meeting between the teams. The Thunder won 98-75 in Oklahoma City on Dec. 26. … This was the start of a back-to-back for the Hornets. They’ll play at Dallas on Sunday, the opener on a four-game road trip. … The Thunder were also starting a back-to-back with a home game against Denver on Sunday night.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.