OKLAHOMA CITY -- In their rise from league laughingstocks to championship contenders, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been fortunate enough to avoid clusters of injuries.
Even that couldn't slow them down against the New Orleans Hornets.
"You're going to have injuries," Westbrook said. "You've just got to make sure you're ready to take the opportunity and be ready to play."
One night after a historic performance featuring big scoring nights from All-Stars Durant and Westbrook and a triple-double from Serge Ibaka, the Thunder built a 26-point lead and then had to scrap it out at the end.
Jarrett Jack scored 18 points to lead New Orleans, which had a surprising three-game winning streak after losing 23 of 25.
The Hornets trailed 68-42 midway through the third quarter, then made a series of runs to make it interesting right down to the final minute.
New Orleans was within six before Westbrook hit four free throws in the final 48 seconds.
"We brought the energy from the beginning. We were down a few guys but I think the guys on the bench stepped up and played hard for us," Durant said.
"We had a few slip-ups in the third and obviously in the fourth but I think we did a good job overall of playing hard."
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Al-Farouq Aminu powered home a right-handed slam to ignite an 8-0 run that pulled New Orleans to within 97-91 after Jack's foul line jumper with 1:04 remaining.
Westbrook was fouled on a drive on Oklahoma City's next possession, and his six foul shots were all the Thunder needed to hang on down the stretch. They didn't make another basket after Durant's 3-pointer with 5:30 to play provided a 95-80 lead.
Ibaka had nine points and 13 rebounds and Kendrick Perkins added 13 points and six blocks for the Thunder, who extended their longest home winning streak since moving to Oklahoma City. The franchise had 18 winning streaks of at least 10 games while playing in Seattle.
"A tough game after a long and hard-fought game last night, but we came out and came out with the victory," Westbrook said.
Greivis Vasquez scored 15 and Aminu chipped in 14 for New Orleans, which will celebrate Mardi Gras this year by playing a back-to-back-to-back set entirely on the road. The Hornets wore their purple, green and gold uniforms.
Coach Monty Williams said his team may have come out flat after having two days off to soak in the emotions of becoming the first team to interrupt the Linsanity by beating the New York Knicks. Yet, he was proud to see them battle back from a big deficit.
"I've watched this team enough times to know that if you hang in there, the game can change," Williams said. "I never feel like I'm out of it."
Oklahoma City rolled early, after having Durant score 51, Westbrook score 40 and Ibaka record his first career triple-double a night earlier against Denver. They were the first teammates in NBA history to put together a 50-point game, a 40-point game and a triple-double.
The Thunder shot 55 percent while getting out to a 60-38 halftime lead, equaling the Hornets' season-worst for points allowed in a half from the team's previous meeting in Oklahoma City. New Orleans shot only 28 percent in the first half and was hovering around 30 percent when Oklahoma City's lead bulged to 26 in the third.
Vasquez hit bookend 3-pointers and scored 10 points during a 15-3 run that got New Orleans to 71-57 with 4:06 left in the third. The Hornets then pulled to 84-74 with a 13-2 push that Jack finished off with a 3-pointer from the right wing with 9:47 remaining.
Durant came back off the bench to hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to help stem the tide for Oklahoma City, only for New Orleans to mount another rally.
Williams stuck with a makeshift lineup featuring two players on 10-day contracts throughout the fourth quarter, and it nearly paid off.
"It's a learning process for a young team like us," Vasquez said. "I didn't think we came out hard in the first half. In the second half, we came out hard with a hard defense and we played a lot better. I think that's something that we have to work on, being consistent -- and it doesn't come overnight."
New Orleans continued to play without Eric Gordon (knee), Carl Landry (knee), Emeka Okafor (knee) and Jason Smith (concussion) while Oklahoma City's roster was also depleted after an overtime thriller a night earlier.
Backups James Harden (sprained left ankle) and Nick Collison (left quad contusion) didn't play, joining starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha (foot), backup point guard Eric Maynor (knee) and reserve Lazar Hayward (eye) on the sidelines.
Both usually third-stringers, Royal Ivey hit a 3-pointer and Cole Aldrich a hook shot during a 7-0 run for the Thunder to keep the momentum going while Durant and Westbrook were on the bench late in the first quarter.
"It was good, especially after that win that we had last night -- an emotional game and a game that took a lot of energy to win," Aldrich said. "Just coming out here, we had a lot of energy early and I thought it was really good the way we started the game."
Durant had a steal that led to a right-handed slam and added a 3-pointer during a stretch of eight straight Oklahoma City points that pushed the lead above 20 for the first time in the game, with less than 3 minutes to go before halftime.
|A night after scoring 51 points, Kevin Durant drops 31 points against the Hornets. (US Presswire)|
|New Orleans (7-24)||18||20||31||24||93|
|Oklahoma City (25-7) «||31||29||24||17||101|
|NO:J. Jack 18 Pts
NO:C. Kaman 8 Reb
NO:T. Ariza 5 Ast
|OKC:K. Durant 31 Pts
OKC:K. Perkins 13 Reb
OKC:K. Durant 4 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|New Orleans||Oklahoma City|
|T. Ariza, SG||29||2-7||3-4||4||5||1||7|
|G. Vasquez, PG||29||5-9||3-3||2||0||3||15|
|C. Kaman, C||28||4-17||4-4||8||3||1||12|
|M. Belinelli, SG||23||4-8||0-0||2||0||0||10|
|G. Ayon, PF||21||2-5||0-0||5||1||1||4|
|J. Jack, PG||30||6-15||4-6||5||5||4||18|
|A. Aminu, SF||23||6-10||1-1||6||0||2||14|
|S. Jones, PF||22||1-7||0-0||4||2||2||2|
|L. Thomas, SF||20||2-7||1-1||8||0||3||5|
|X. Henry, SG||16||1-6||4-4||3||1||0||6|
|E. Okafor, C||Did Not Play|
|C. Landry, PF||Did Not Play|
|J. Smith, PF||Did Not Play|
|E. Gordon, SG||Did Not Play|
|D. Sloan, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Durant, SF||40||10-19||8-9||8||4||1||31|
|D. Cook, SG||35||3-13||0-0||5||0||0||7|
|R. Westbrook, PG||34||10-20||9-10||2||4||3||31|
|K. Perkins, C||31||2-3||1-2||13||3||2||5|
|S. Ibaka, PF||31||4-9||1-1||13||0||5||9|
|R. Ivey, PG||22||2-6||0-0||1||0||0||6|
|C. Aldrich, C||19||2-3||0-0||3||0||2||4|
|N. Mohammed, C||14||1-2||0-0||2||0||5||2|
|R. Jackson, PG||14||2-5||2-2||1||4||1||6|
|N. Collison, PF||Did Not Play|
|T. Sefolosha, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. Harden, SG||Did Not Play|
|E. Maynor, PG||Did Not Play|
|L. Hayward, SF||Did Not Play|
|R. Reid, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|