The Oklahoma City Thunder played like the top team in the Western Conference.
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The Denver Nuggets looked like a team still searching for the right parts.
Kevin Durant scored 24 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 and Oklahoma City beat the short-handed Nuggets 103-90 on Thursday night.
Andre Miller had 17 to lead the Nuggets, who sent the talented yet often-injured Nene to Washington for JaVale McGee and Ronny Turiaf.
The deal was widely known before the game started but wasn’t finalized until the first half, leaving Denver without another big man to face the Thunder.
It also had an impact mentally.
”Anytime you trade a guy that’s been with me since I’ve been here, and we have a personal connection because of our situations with cancer, it’s very difficult,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. ”I hope to be friends with Nene for a long, long time after basketball.”
Denver signed Nene to a new five-year, $67 million contract in December. He was averaging 13.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in an injury-plagued season. But the recent play of rookie forward Kenneth Faried made Nene expendable.
The Nuggets, who are in the thick of the playoff chase again this season, are a team without a superstar. Instead, Karl relies on his superior depth to wear teams down and McGee figures to help in that regard.
Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said the team plans to waive Turiaf.
”We did (this trade) with the intention of the big picture. Make the team better,” Ujiri said. ”We felt that the direction of the organization at this time was we wanted to go a little bit younger.”
Without Nene, the Nuggets didn’t have enough to stay with the Thunder in the second half Thursday.
Trailing by one, Durant asserted himself to start the third quarter. He scored nine points to help the Thunder surge past the cold-shooting Nuggets. His fast-break dunk with 4:08 left in the third gave Oklahoma City a 68-57 lead.
”We came out and did what we wanted,” Durant said. ”We knew they were going to be playing with a heavy heart and we wanted to come out and take advantage.”
James Harden followed with a dunk and Westbrook drained a 3-pointer to put the Thunder ahead 73-59 before Denver cut the deficit to eight late in the period. Harden finished with 18 points.
A 3-pointer by Daequan Cook, his third of the game, made it 78-65 heading into the fourth.
”Early in the quarter, we took too many jumpers and didn’t make any of them,” Karl said. ”Our offense was very inefficient and ineffective and they’re such a solid offense team I don’t think you can give them a bad quarter.”
Nick Collison scored all six of his points early in the final period and Harden hit a long 3-pointer to push the lead to 90-72 with 7:04 left.
”We moved the ball and moved it quickly and got the good hockey assist and we made the shots,” Durant said. ”And once we make shots and once we defend with all your heart, it is a fun game.”
The Thunder took a 14-point lead early in the second quarter on the strength of hot shooting. Oklahoma City hit 57 percent of its shots in the first quarter.
Down 44-32 midway through the period, Denver rallied. Danilo Gallinari hit two 3-pointers to spur a 19-3 run that gave Denver a 51-47 lead late in the first half. Westbrook hit three free throws in the final 46 seconds to pull the Thunder to within 51-50 at the break.
Notes: Ujiri said the team hopes to sign restricted free agent Wilson Chandler to a contract in the next few days. Chandler, who was in the Nuggets’ postgame locker room, said he hopes to sign by Monday or Tuesday. … Thunder G Thabo Sefolosha returned to the lineup after missing 23 games with right foot injury. … Nuggets forward Al Harrington went to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter with a left knee contusion. The team said he is day-to-day.