Thunder 103, Hornets 99

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 their 103-99 victory.

Westbrook hit a mid-range shot with 13.7 seconds left 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 left, 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.”

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

finished with 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

last three games, had an off night by his recent standards. He was

10 of 20 from the field and tied a season high with eight

turnovers.

“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 contusion after a hard fall in the fourth

quarter. Stojakovic and David West added 15 each, but Oklahoma City

limited West to two points after the first 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. I just got an MRI, not X-rays. They haven’t told

me anything yet.”

The Thunder snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Hornets

dating to Dec. 26, 2006, when the franchise was in Seattle.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 12 and trailed only once, 95-94,

but the Hornets hung around until the final seconds. Paul will have

arthroscopic surgery Thursday to repair a torn meniscus in his left

knee and likely will miss all of February. Hornets coach Jeff Bower

wouldn’t give a timetable for his return.

“We are anticipating a very successful process,” Bower said.

“The time frame will be determined after the surgery. I won’t

speculate on that.”

Paul hurt the knee Jan. 27 against Golden State, then aggravated

the injury when he collided with a camera while chasing an errant

pass in the final seconds of regulation against the Chicago Bulls

on Friday night.

The Hornets, who trailed by 12 several times, took their only

lead on Darren Collison’s 3-point shot with 4:17 left. Stojakovic’s

3-pointer 36 seconds earlier had drawn New Orleans within two.

Durant tied it at 95, then scored to give Oklahoma City the lead

for good, 97-95. Jeff Green’s bank shot gave the Thunder a

four-point cushion with 1:50 left.

“I’ve never beaten the Hornets,” Durant said. “It feels cool

to come into a hostile environment and get the win.”

Nenad Krstic hit his first seven attempts, including five in the

third quarter, before finally missing one.

The Hornets stayed close by forcing 18 turnovers and committing

only nine, but they struggled to score down the stretch with an

unfamiliar lineup on the floor. Thornton was hurt, and West, a

two-time All-Star, sat out the fourth quarter after picking up his

fourth foul in the third.

“They (the coaches) didn’t say anything to me,” West said.

“It’s just one of those things. I guess they decided to go in a

different direction. I’m used to being in there in those

situations, so it was tough, but the guys fought and we almost came

up with the win.”

NOTES: Durant has scored 25 or more points in 23 consecutive

games. Oklahoma City scored 100 points on the road for the first

time in eight games. The Hornets have lost three in a row at home

for the first time since a similar span from late January to early

February last year. … With Paul out, the Hornets had a season-low

attendance of 12,844.