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November 19, 2010

Durant scores 24 as Thunder beat Rockets


The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — By JEFF LATZKE

AP Sports Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Scott Brooks struck a chord to get the Oklahoma City Thunder playing better together on offense.

He told his players that all they had to do to earn a day off was get 20 assists against the Houston Rockets.

The plan worked so well that Kevin Durant and some of the Thunder's other starters started their time off a little early.

Durant scored 24 points in only three quarters, Russell Westbrook had 21 points and 12 assists and Oklahoma City beat Houston 116-99 on Wednesday night for its most lopsided win this season.

The Thunder had a season-high 26 assists and a season-low nine turnovers — including one for purposely letting the shot clock run out in the final seconds.

"Scotty should be saying that a lot," Durant said.

Despite coming in as the NBA's eighth-highest scoring team, Oklahoma City was averaging a league-low 16.4 assists. But given a little motivation, everything changed before a trip to Boston.

"I guess we'll see them at the plane tomorrow," said D.J. White, who finished with 12 points — twice what he'd scored so far this season — as the Thunder's bench put the game away in the fourth.

Durant came in playing elevated minutes due to Jeff Green's absence from the lineup with a sprained left ankle and a series of close games for the Thunder. He was second in the league with 41½ minutes per game, but played just under 30 with Oklahoma City comfortably ahead.

"I don't like it, but we were winning the game and coach wanted to give me some rest," Durant said. "It was pretty cool that the guys finished it out and got a good win."

Luis Scola had 26 points and Kevin Martin scored 19 for Houston, but both of them also stayed on the sideline in the final period with the Rockets way behind and in the second leg of a back-to-back.

Aaron Brooks missed his sixth straight game and Yao Ming his fifth straight for Houston, while Oklahoma City's Green sat out for the fifth time in six games. All three have sprained left ankles.

"We just have to figure it out," Shane Battier said after Houston fell to 3-8. "We've got to grind it out right now."

Oklahoma City never trailed after responding to Scola's opening basket with a 10-0 run, then put the game away late in the third quarter.

The Rockets pulled to 75-69 on Martin's layup midway through the third, but Houston went more than 4 minutes without another basket to fall behind by 15. Eric Maynor's 3-pointer from the right wing made it 89-74 with 1:31 left in the period.

Maynor buried another 3 early in the fourth quarter to make it 99-82, and Oklahoma City would eventually lead by 20.

"That's what we have to do on the bench is build on the momentum that the starters start with," White said. "That's part of being a team and growing together is building on the momentum, and I think we did a good job of that coming in tonight focused on the bench."

Of Oklahoma City's first six victories, only one came by double digits — an 11-point victory against Chicago on opening night. Three of the wins were decided by two points or less.

This time, Durant wasn't needed for any late-game drama. He stayed on the bench with a towel over his head, popping up to congratulate the Thunder's reserves after made baskets.

"Kevin loves to play. He loves to play and he wants to play," Brooks said. "Tonight, he looked at me a few times but we had a decent lead. ... We've got some guys that have been out for a while, so the minutes have been up for KD. He can handle a few extra minutes here and there, but it's good to get him going into the fourth quarter where he doesn't have to come up big for us."

Durant took a couple hard spills in the first half, including after his left foot landed on Scola's foot on a drive to the basket following Oklahoma City's early 10-0 run. He stayed down for the Rockets' ensuing possession but stayed in the game.

"It's all part of the game," Durant said. "Hopefully, I continue to just keep my body right and I'll be all right down the line."

Scola scored 16 of Houston's first 27 points, including six during an 8-0 run that allowed the Rockets to erase a nine-point deficit. Courtney Lee's 3-pointer tied it at 30 early in the second quarter, but Oklahoma City scored 13 of the next 15 points to take control again.