Desperately trying to fight their way into the playoffs during an injury-marred season, the Los Angeles Lakers watched as Kobe Bryant grimaced, grabbed his right elbow and headed to the locker room.
They got no sympathy from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Russell Westbrook had 37 points and 10 rebounds, Kevin Durant scored 26, and Oklahoma City held off a second-half charge to beat the improving Lakers 122-105 on Tuesday night.
Bryant was able to score 30 points after returning from the injury, but a late rally fizzled as the Thunder scored the final 12 points of the game.
”Kobe didn’t look hurt to me,” Durant said. ”We’re not going to feel sorry for them. If they’re out there playing, then they can play. Kobe looked fine. Dwight (Howard) looked fine.
”We know they’re a resilient team. They’ve been fighting hard all year. They made some shots in that second half.”
But Oklahoma City was the only one to connect when it counted the most.
The Thunder led from start to finish, letting their 18-point lead get whittled down to five midway through the fourth quarter.
Serge Ibaka, who dodged a suspension after delivering a low blow against Blake Griffin in Oklahoma City’s previous game, hit a 3-pointer and Westbrook had a two-handed slam in the Thunder’s closing run.
”They’re a championship-caliber team, so they’re never going to give up, and they kept fighting and cut it to five,” Durant said. ”I think we did a really good job of staying composed throughout that little run that they made, and we made some big shots.”
Steve Nash matched his season’s best with 20 points, but the Lakers fell back below .500 after reaching the mark for the first time since December. His 3-pointer got Los Angeles as close as 110-105 with 6:14 remaining, but his team didn’t score again.
L.A. fell to 1-11 in road games against the teams that currently occupy the eight Western Conference playoff spots and is now 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Utah.
”You can always try to find positive things with anything,” Bryant said. ”But for us right now, we’ve got to get some wins.”
Bryant said he took a shot to the ”button” on the end of his elbow and had to figure out a way to adjust his shooting mechanics to deal with what the team called an ulnar nerve contusion.
”Every time you try to bend your elbow or extend it, there’s a little resistance and there’s a lot of pain,” Bryant said.
For a team that already has spent parts of this season without Howard, Nash and Pau Gasol — all of them All-Stars — the news wasn’t all that bad for the Lakers.
”I’m going to keep playing,” Bryant said. ”This is the critical part of the season.”
Oklahoma City tied an NBA record for fewest turnovers with just two. Milwaukee set the record in a game against Indiana on April 1, 2006, and Cleveland tied it in an overtime game against Portland on March 19, 2009.
In recent years, the Thunder have been among the worst teams in the league in turnovers, with Westbrook and Durant among the league leaders in most miscues.
”I think we’ve done a great job of just learning and trying to get better at it each and every game. Not really focusing on it but just making the right decisions,” said Westbrook, who traveled to commit one of the two.
After Nash’s 3-pointer got the Lakers within five, Nash and Metta World Peace each missed 3s during a string of four straight empty possessions with L.A. down by six. Ibaka then connected on a 3-pointer from the right corner to help the Thunder start pulling away.
World Peace finished with 16 points and Dwight Howard had six points and 16 rebounds before fouling out with 2:24 remaining.
By the time Bryant went out less than 4 minutes into the game, the Thunder already had delivered an opening 7-0 burst while Los Angeles missed its first 10 shots from the field.
Bryant air-balled his first shot from 3-point range and was grabbing at the elbow, even crossing up arms with Durant after the ball had been stolen away by Durant. Bryant was able to return about 4 1/2 minutes later, making his first shot a left-handed hook. He dribbled predominantly with his left hand and even snagged one rebound by cradling it in his left arm.
But he wouldn’t join an injured list that includes Gasol, out two to four more weeks with a foot injury, and reserve Jordan Hill, out for the season after hip surgery.
Oklahoma City also closed the first half with seven straight points to go up 71-55 after Durant’s step-back jumper. It was the highest-scoring first half of the season for Oklahoma City.
Notes: Durant got his 13th technical foul of the season, three shy of an automatic one-game suspension. Durant, who was on the bench at the time, drew the technical after saying something to referee Joe Crawford as Derek Fisher returned to the sideline for a timeout after getting his own technical from referee Kevin Fehr. Fisher was arguing a personal foul called against Kendrick Perkins. … Oklahoma City has not played a home game decided by fewer than 10 points since Dec. 28. The Thunder’s last 12 wins at Chesapeake Energy Arena have been by at least 16 points — and an average of 24.6 points. Their two losses were by 17 to Brooklyn and 10 to Miami. … The NBA announced Tuesday that both teams will play preseason games overseas in the fall. Oklahoma City will face Fenerbahce in Istanbul and Philadelphia in Manchester, England. The Lakers will play Golden State twice, in Beijing and Shanghai.