Monday, December 30, 2013
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Durant, Thunder rough up Rockets

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[December 30, 2013]  OKLAHOMA CITY  When the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that guard Russell Westbrook was going to sit out two months as his knee healed, the prevailing thought was that forward Kevin Durant would have to step up his game.

Even though Durant was playing at an All-Star level, more would be expected of him.

However, unlike when Oklahoma City lost Westbrook in last year's postseason, the current Thunder squad believes the load doesn't need to be all on Durant's shoulders. The Thunder showed that Sunday when they rolled past the Houston Rockets 117-86 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"Going through that kind of prepared us for this time," Durant said of playing without Westbrook last spring. "It's still tough not having him here, but we know what we have to do. We learned from our mistakes last time. We just keep getting better."

As well as the Thunder played, the Rockets had one of their worst performances of the season, which didn't sit well with coach Kevin McHale.

"We didn't play well the whole night," McHale said. "They outplayed us. They were more aggressive than we were. They attacked. We couldn't find a lineup that could work."


Durant scored 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Oklahoma City (25-5) to a second consecutive win without Westbrook. But while Durant shined as usual, it was the Thunder's supporting cast that stole the show. Guard Jeremy Lamb came off the bench to score 22 points, and Reggie Jackson added 16 points and eight assists while starting in Westbrook's place.

Reserve guard Aaron Brooks scored a team-high 17 points for Houston (21-12). Forwards Chandler Parsons and Omri Casspi added 15 points apiece. Center Dwight Howard was held to nine points and nine rebounds, and guard James Harden scored eight points on 2-for-9 shooting. As a team, Houston compiled a total of eight assists and was outrebounded 49-38.

"It wasn't good at all," Harden said. "We just look tired out there. This is four (games) in five nights for us. We look kind of sluggish out there. We didn't have our mojo out there like we needed to."

Oklahoma City's defense started the night roughing up the Rockets. The Thunder didn't allow a basket until there was 5:26 left in the opening quarter while running out to a 15-2 advantage.

Center Kendrick Perkins set the tone for the Thunder. He pushed Howard out of the paint and kept him from getting good looks at the baskets and from grabbing offensive rebounds. The Thunder led 26-14 after first quarter.

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"Perkins did a good job of making Howard's shots tough and also made his catches difficult," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a good job of using his strength and his body on interior defense."

With Westbrook sidelined, the Rockets focused more attention on Durant, but that didn't stop the league's leading scorer from throwing down a couple of powerful dunks and getting to the basket with ease as the Thunder took a 56-44 lead into halftime.

"I'm not one of those guys that can turn it on and turn it off," Durant said. "There will be good nights and bad nights. I just try and keep my intensity at the same level every time I step on the court."

Durant's shots continued to drop in second half, including a 3-pointer over an outstretched Harden. Afterward, Durant turned to the Rockets' bench and talked about it.

"I'm liking the mean KD," Perkins said. "Giving staredowns when he's dunking on people. I'm rollin' with this."

Houston couldn't find any rhythm offensively and was lackluster on defense. The Rockets were unable to stop the Thunder in any facet of the game.

"We were bad tonight," McHale said. "Give them credit. They played well. They had a good game plan, but we couldn't stop them, we couldn't run. We had nothing."

NOTES: Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks would not discusses talks he and Russell Westbrook had regarding the guard trying to play through his knee injury. "Those are personal conversations," Brooks said. ... The Rockets played their fourth game in five nights, but coach Kevin McHale would not allow that to be an excuse for the team's recent struggles shooting from 3-point range. "We are not heaving boulders," McHale said. "We are shooting basketballs. I think that weighs like an ounce or two." Houston shot 7-for-28 from beyond the arc Sunday. ... Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant always had an interest in rap and hip hop. He showed he is serious about it again with the release of his track entitled "Whole Life," which features fellow Oklahoma City rappers Josh Salle, Privaledge and CL McCoy.

[ 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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