Thunder 104, Clippers 87

Kevin Durant first met Spencer Haywood three years ago during

his rookie season, when the Oklahoma City Thunder were based in

Seattle and in the throws of a 20-62 season. The former SuperSonics

star told Durant to keep his head up because things would turn

around.

On Friday night, Durant tied Haywood’s 1972-73 franchise mark by

recording his 35th game of the season with 30 or more points in a

104-87 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The first-time

All-Star finished with 32 points and nine rebounds.

Haywood’s legacy when he retired from the game was the 1971

Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA that players could leave

college early for the NBA. Durant benefited from that landmark

decision, leaving the Texas Longhorns after his freshman season to

go into the draft and getting taken with the No. 2 overall

pick.

“I know a lot about Spencer and what he’s done for this league.

He paved the way for guys like myself, so it’s a great honor to be

in company like that,” Durant said. “That’s pretty cool. He’s a

great role model to kids and he helped me out when I was in

Seattle.”

Durant, who has been playing leapfrog with LeBron James in their

race for the NBA scoring title, came in trailing the Cleveland

Cavaliers’ star by one-tenth of a point per game. James had 40

against Detroit on Friday night.

Durant, trying to become the first player in the 43-year history

of the Seattle/Oklahoma City franchise to win a league scoring

crown, has had at least 25 points in 33 of his last 35 games.

The only exceptions were his 22-point effort at San Antonio on

Feb. 24 and Wednesday’s 19-point showing against the Nuggets, when

he left the game with 4:26 remaining and the Thunder trailing by 23

in their most lopsided loss of the season.

Russell Westbrook had 15 points and nine assists, helping the

Thunder record their 18th road victory – three more than their

combined total the previous two seasons.

“Russell was a big part of how we played tonight with his

energy and effort,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He didn’t feel like

he had a good game offensively, with the (seven) turnovers, but

defensively he was good and he really inspired our team from the

opening jump by playing good defense on Baron Davis.”

Chris Kaman had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Clippers, who

shot just 37.2 percent from the field. None of them had more than

one field goal during the first 16 minutes except for reserve

forward Craig Smith, who made six of his first seven shots after

missing two games with a left biceps strain. Smith finished 7 for

11 with 19 points in a foul-plagued 22 minutes.

“The Thunder got after it. They got to loose balls and they

forced some turnovers, which translated into transition baskets,”

Smith said. “Sometimes, we couldn’t get stops. If we don’t assert

ourselves on the defensive end and control our turnovers, we’re

going to be in for a long night.”

Trailing by 11 early in the third quarter, the Clippers narrowed

the gap to 68-64 on Rasual Butler’s 3-pointer with 4:07 left in the

period. But that was as close as they got, as the Thunder opened

the fourth with an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 86-69.

Rookie James Harden, who had 17 points off the bench, set up an

alley-oop dunk by Durant on a fast break with 6 minutes to play

after rookie Serge Ibaka blocked a layup by Kaman at the other

end.

“We did a great job of locking in and getting focused,” Durant

said. “It was an overall effort from everyone, and we really

helped each other out. It was a good team win. We’ve worked hard,

and we continue to get better.”

After shooting a season-worst 32.5 percent and committing 23

turnovers Wednesday night in a 119-90 loss at Denver, Oklahoma City

opened the game with an 18-6 run and led 53-46 at halftime. The

Clippers were 0 for 8 from 3-point range until Butler connected

with 6:26 left in the third quarter to trim Oklahoma City’s lead to

61-57.

“Our defense got us this far. That’s our focus,” Harden said.

“Tonight we wanted to come out with energy and intensity and just

stay focused on the defensive end.”

NOTES: Durant is averaging 28.7 points in 10 career games

against the Clippers, compared with 24.5 in 205 games against the

rest of the league. He had 40 points in a 101-93 home loss to the

Clippers on Nov. 15, and 46 in a 107-104 road loss on Jan. 23,

2009. … Oklahoma City, which had only 18 points in the paint in

the loss to Denver, matched that total on Harden’s layup with 3

minutes left in the first half. The Thunder were still outscored

38-36 in that category by the Clippers. … Westbrook’s alma

matter, Leuzinger High in Lawndale, retired his uniform number

Thursday night in a ceremony that was attended by his Thunder

teammates.