Thunder figure out how to win despite off nights from Durant, Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after scoring against the Mia;mi Heat during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Miami, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015.  

J Pat Carter/AP

If The Thunder had lost we would have known why.

Russell Westbrook wasn’t good. Neither was Kevin Durant. They were off their games and that combination generally leads to an Oklahoma City loss.

Just like it did earlier this month when the Thunder were wiped out at Golden State and then at Sacramento in the same week.

But OKC won Tuesday in Miami against the Heat, in spite of Westbrook and Durant and won the kind of game it had been losing all season long.

The Thunder won and didn’t play all that well.

Sure, it’s been that kinda year where injuries have been the story and the losses have piled up, but during the Thunder’s recent and current three-game winning streak, including Tuesday’s 94-86 victory, OKC looks more comfortable, more at ease and better than it has at any time this season.

And that happened on a night when Durant went zero-for-eight on 3-pointers and finished 9-of-24 shooting. Westbrook was 8-of-17 and didn’t make a 3-pointer. The two had just five combined free throws. They scored 38 combined points. Certainly not a crushing performance, but it wasn’t All-Star stuff like we’ve seen the past two times out in wins against Golden State and Orlando.

The team shot 44 percent and only 23 percent on 3-pointers. Oklahoma City had just 15 assists on 41 baskets and got just one total assist from its bench players.

Earlier this season, OKC won seven in a row shortly after getting Durant and Westbrook back into the lineup, but this recent stretch seems more sustainable, maybe because the team won a second in a row on the road and maybe because this team climbed above .500 for the first time this season at exactly the halfway point of the season – 21–€“20.

More reasons for sustainability? How about Reggie Jackson? Banished to the bench behind newcomer Dion Waiters, Jackson played outstanding against the Heat. In 26 minutes, Jackson was seven-for-nine and scored 16 points. He was a game-high plus-17 as well.

And the fact the Thunder got mediocre performances from Durant and Westbrook and Waiters, who was just one-for-nine for three points, shows, even against a very average team like Miami, this OKC bunch has the pieces to win.

It’s the same group that made the Western Finals a season ago, but this time through, OKC has more options beyond Durant and Westbrook.

Can the Thunder win when its two stars struggle? Not regularly. But Jackson, despite being rumored to be on the way out, showed how valuable he is. Steven Adams and Anthony Morrow, complementary parts, combined for 22 points and just one turnover.

The Thunder improved to 2-0 on their longest road trip of the season. It gets more difficult with games against Washington Wednesday then Atlanta and Cleveland – three playoff-bound teams.

Chances are the Thunder will have to play a lot better to win. Chances are Durant and Westbrook both won’t struggle too often at the same time.

But Tuesday when all of those things were working against Oklahoma City, it was impressive the the Thunder figured out how to win anyway.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK

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