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Westbrook carries Thunder past Hornets



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.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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