NEW ORLEANS - Oklahoma City has climbed into playoff contention with tough defense. On Wednesday night, the Thunder beat the New Orleans Hornets with terrific offense, and not just from Kevin Durant.
Durant scored 30 points, Russell Westbrook had 26 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds and the Thunder shot a season-high 57.5 percent in a 103-99 victory.
Westbrook hit a mid-range shot with 13.7 seconds remaining to give the Thunder a 101-97 lead. After the Hornets cut it to 101-99 on Peja Stojakovic’s layup, Durant made a pair of free throws with 8.5 seconds to go, finally putting away a Hornets team playing without injured All-Star point guard Chris Paul (knee surgery).
“Russell has been working on that mid-range shot, and it paid off,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He spent all summer long before games and practice working on that shot. That is a shot I know he can knock down.”
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Westbrook dominated his matchup with Paul’s replacement, rookie Darren Collison. After scoring 33 points and handing out 32 assists in the Hornets’ first two games since Paul’s injury, Collison had nine points on 4-of-12 shooting, nine assists and five turnovers.
“We knew they could beat us without Chris Paul,” Westbrook said. “I tried to be aggressive, defend and try to help my team out.”
Durant, who averaged 36.0 points and shot 63.8 percent in his prior three games, had an off night by his recent standards. He tied a season high eight turnovers was 10 of 20 from the field.
He has scored at least 25 points for 23rd games in a row.
“My teammates did a great job looking for me and finding me,” he said. “I’ve got to continue to work and get better.”
Marcus Thornton scored 22 points for New Orleans before leaving with a lower-back bruise after a fall in the fourth quarter.
“I was trying to make a play at the basket and then try to draw contact,” Thornton said of his injury. “The next thing you know, I was on my back.”
The Thunder snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Hornets dating to Dec. 26, 2006, when the franchise was the Seattle SuperSonics.
1 LEGENDARY DICK MCGUIRE DIES Dick McGuire, a Hall of Fame member whose No. 15 was retired by the New York Knicks, died at a Long Island hospital of natural causes at age 84. The older brother of legendary college coach Al McGuire, Dick McGuire was the first NBA coach for Walt Frazier and Phil Jackson (1965-67) after his stellar playing career (1949-57). The Bronx native was a seven-time All-Star and led the Knicks to three straight NBA Finals (1951-53). “As one of its first superstars, Dick was instrumental to the early success of the NBA,” commissioner David Stern said in a statement.
2 SURGERY FOR CHRIS PAUL New Orleans point guard Chris Paul will have knee surgery and miss the All-Star Game. Hornets coach Jeff Bower said Paul will have surgery today to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Although Paul is likely to be sidelined for up to a month, Bower wouldn’t give a timetable for his return. Denver’s Chauncey Billups will take his place for the All-Star Game on Feb. 14 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.