OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have plenty of practice playing without forward Kevin Durant. The NBA’s reigning MVP has missed more games than he has played this season.
However, with the Thunder losing four of their past five games, Monday was not a good time for Durant to be sidelined due to a strained left big toe.
Despite the star’s absence, Oklahoma City hung on for a 104-97 victory over the Orlando Magic at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Guard Russell Westbrook posted his second triple double of the season with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists to lead the Thunder.
Oklahoma City (24-24) ended a two-game losing streak and remained within striking distance of the Phoenix Suns in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
“We haven’t backed down from the challenge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We haven’t played well all the time. The reality of it is we’re fighting through a lot of different things this season we haven’t had to fight through before. These are all great opportunities for all of us to improve and get better and figure out ways to stay competitive and stay afloat.”
Orlando (15-36) lost its ninth consecutive game, but the team showed more fight down the stretch then it had in weeks.
“Every day we take steps forward,” Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn said. “We’re taking the smallest steps possible. We need to take a giant step at some point and get over the hump.”
With 3:06 left in the game, Orlando forward Channing Frye drained a 3-pointer to cut the Thunder’s lead to 100-86. After an Oklahoma City turnover, Magic guard Victor Oladipo hit two free throws, and the advantage was down to 12.
Westbrook responded with a midrange jumper before Orlando guard Willie Green drained back-to-back 3-pointers, and the Magic trailed 102-94 with 1:10 left.
Once again, Westbrook had the answer. With Green guarding him at the top of the key, he dribbled a few times before pulling up and hitting a 15-foot jump shot with 54 seconds to go.
That was all the Thunder needed to close out the Magic.
Oladipo led Orlando with 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Magic center Nikola Vucevic scored 20 points, and forward Tobias Harris added 18.
Guard Dion Waiters scored 24 in his first start for the Thunder. Forward Serge Ibaka added 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
“A lot of good performances,” Brooks said. “Russell, obviously, with his triple-double, it was a special game for him. He was attacking, he was making plays. The guys were making shots for him, and he was rebounding the ball.”
Westbrook was on the attack from the start. Along with his 16 first-half points, he had 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals at the break.
The Magic relied on Harris and Vucevic to stay in the contest. The two combined to score 24 first-half points, but the Thunder still led 61-50 at intermission.
“I thought overall, we played with a sense of urgency,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We played with some pride. That was the challenge to our group.”
Waiters started in place of Durant and took advantage of the opportunity. He scored nine points in the third quarter to help Oklahoma City open up a 22-point lead.
Orlando was able to cut the deficit down to 13 midway through the fourth, and the Thunder bench looked ready to fall apart. However, back-to-back baskets by Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins and guard Anthony Morrow (15 points) stretched the margin to 91-73.
“I thought we did a lot of good things tonight,” Brooks said. “We did a great job of moving the basketball and taking care of the ball.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant (toe) sat out for the third time in the past two weeks. Durant has missed 26 games this season with a variety of injuries. “He had treatment yesterday and today. Still not responding the way we would like,” coach Scott Brooks said. … Entering Monday, Orlando allowed at least 100 points in 12 consecutive games. “Our biggest culprit defensively has been keeping the basketball in front of us,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “The ability to guard guys is one of the toughest things to do in this league.” … After being on the road for 10 games in January, Oklahoma City will be at home for seven games in February. … Magic F Victor Oladipo was back in the lineup after sitting out one game because of a sore right Achilles.
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