Westbrook, Thunder to square off against Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Russell Westbrook continues his assault on the NBA record book Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center, but Oklahoma City’s star guard is also about the Thunder moving up in the standings.

Oklahoma City (35-25) is seventh in the Western Conference, but the Thunder is within 1 1/2 games of No. 4 Utah (37-23) after a 109-106 victory over the Jazz on Tuesday night and Utah’s 107-80 setback to Minnesota on Wednesday.

“We want to get as high (in the standings) as we can,” Westbrook said after scoring 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the final two minutes as Oklahoma City erased a four-point deficit with 48 seconds to go. “Homecourt advantage (in the playoffs) would be great.”

The Thunder opened the Utah game by making their first 12 shots from 3-point range, the most consecutive 3s made by an NBA team after the opening tip since the 2002-03 season. They also set a franchise record for 3s in a half.

But Oklahoma City still needed a heroic effort by Westbrook, who finished with 43 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“Russell has great internal belief and and belief in his teammates,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. “He is playing with a level of optimism, with a level of enthusiasm and a never-say-die attitude all the time.”

Westbrook, averaging 31.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.3 assists, is bidding to join Oscar Robertson (1961-62) as the only players to average a triple-double for a season. Westbrook recorded 30 triple-doubles this season, one shy of Wilt Chamberlain for second-most in a season. Robertson holds the single-season record at 41.

Oklahoma City bolstered its bench with a trade last week that brought forwards Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott from Chicago. In three games, Gibson is averaging 8.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 22.7 minutes off the bench. McDermott averages 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, but had 16 points in 25 minutes, hitting 4 of 6 from 3-point range, against Utah.

The Thunder will have another addition Thursday night at Moda Center. Veteran point guard Norris Cole, who averaged 10.6 points and 3.7 assists for New Orleans last season, signed a free-agent contract Wednesday. Cole, 28, played earlier this season in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Portland (24-35) lost seven of its last nine games and fallen to 10th place in the West, three games behind No. 8 Denver. The Blazers fell 120-113 in overtime at Detroit on Tuesday night despite the performance of Damian Lillard, who came within an assist of his first career triple-double. The 6-3 point guard had 34 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

The Blazers shot 52.4 percent from the field but had 24 turnovers against the Pistons.

“We’re frustrated,” Lillard told reporters. “We played a good game outside of turnovers. We feel like we should have won the game.”

The Blazers beat Orlando but lost to Toronto and Denver on their three-game trip, falling to 10-22 on the road this season.

“We should be happy going on this flight (to Portland) with a ‘W’ and a 2-1 trip, but we’re not,” Lillard said. “That’s disappointing, but we have to move forward.

“Fortunately, we’re still in position to get the No. 8 spot. We have to keep fighting. As long as that door is open, we have to keep working toward that. That’s what we’re going to do.”