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Westbrook scores 45 in Thunder win

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NEW ORLEANS – No Kevin Durant, no problem.

Not when guard Russell Westbrook is flying to the basket in full beast mode.

Playing without Oklahoma City’s All-Star forward, Westbrook tied his career high with 45 points, including 25 in the first half, and keyed a 13-0 run in the final 5:21 to power the Thunder to a 102-91 comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center.

The victory moved the Thunder above .500 (25-24) and within one game of the Pelicans (26-23) for the ninth spot in the Western Conference. Both teams are chasing Phoenix for the eighth playoff seed and meet again Friday night in Oklahoma City.

“I was just trying to find a way to keep us in the game, trying to find a way to get us a win,” said Westbrook, who was coming off a triple-double on Monday night against Orlando. “This was a must-win for us coming into their building. That was my only thing. We knew the next two games against them would be playoff-type games for us.”

The Pelicans led 91-89 with 5:39 left when forward Ryan Anderson canned a 3-pointer from the right baseline.

But in the final five minutes, Westbrook, who made 18 of 31 shots from the floor, took over.

Westbrook fed forward Serge Ibaka for a dunk to tie the score and then drove to the basket around Anderson to draw a foul, making one of two free throws to put OKC up 92-91. Westbrook then motored around guard Eric Gordon, playing with five fouls, for a layup, and forward Dion Waiters stripped Tyreke Evans and went coast to coast for layup that put OKC up 96-91.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, were in the midst of eight consecutive empty possessions. Waiters made it 98-91 with a floater in the lane. When Westbrook blocked Evans’ layup attempt on a drive to the basket, he got the ball back on the other end for a 16-foot leaner that made it 100-91.

“Russell is as competitive as any player I have been around,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “His will to win is at a high level, and his will to prepare to win is at a high level. And that is what makes him a great player. He obviously has the talent and the skill base, but his heart and his desire to win, and to win every possession, is what makes him great.”

Guard Anthony Morrow said, “Russell was great — he was Russell.”

The Thunder trailed 57-51 at halftime but held the Pelicans to 34 points on 34 percent shooting from the field in the second half.

Forward Anthony Davis led New Orleans with 23 points, but the rest of the Pelicans’ starters were just 4 of 20 from the floor in the second half.

“We shot a lot of jump shots, and the shots we took around the paint didn’t fall for us,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “I thought Russell just had his way with us tonight, whether it was coming off screens or knocking down shots. We did not have an answer for him.”

“(Westbrook is) unbelievable,” New Orleans forward Quincy Pondexter said. “We have to watch film and find out how to slow him down a bit more. He was just like a bottle rocket tonight.”

The Pelicans took their biggest lead, 68-57, when Gordon hit a 17-foot jumper with 7:19 left in the third quarter. But the Thunder closed with a 20-8 run — with Ibaka breaking loose for 11 — to take a 77-76 lead into the fourth quarter. Brooks said Ibaka’s 3-pointer from the top of the key, which drew the Thunder within 73-71 with 3:09 left in the third quarter, was like a wakeup call for his game.

Ibaka finished with 13 points, six rebounds and seven blocked shots.

“I told him, ‘You have to get it off the offensive glass,’ and he did that,” Brooks said. “He hit open shots. Russell did a great job of attacking and kicking it out for Serge. I think his defense really ignited his offense. When Serge blocks six shots, that means he’s probably altered 15. That helps him on the offensive end.”

NOTES: Thunder G Russell Westbrook had his sixth career game of at least 40 points. He also scored 45 in a March 2012 double-overtime victory over Minnesota in which Kevin Durant led all scorers with 50 points. Thunder F Kevin Durant missed his second consecutive game with a sprained big left toe. … After releasing backup PG Nate Wolters, who was at the end of his second 10-day contract, the Pelicans signed former Miami Heat G Toney Douglas to a 10-day contract. Douglas is insurance in case PG Jrue Holiday does not not come back quickly from a stress reaction in his lower right leg. Douglas had been playing in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Jiangsu Dragons. … The Pelicans and Thunder were in the ninth and 10th positions in the Western Conference, trailing Phoenix by one and three games, respectively, for the final playoff spot. They play each other twice in three nights. “We’ve got to get to that point before we start talking about all that stuff,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “The way you play and establishing that every single night allows you to approach that. We’re not close.”

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

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