Thunder hold off Lakers’ charge
OKLAHOMA CITY — Desperately trying to fight their way into the playoffs during an injury-marred season, the Los Angeles Lakers watched as Kobe Bryant grimaced, grabbed his right elbow and headed to the locker room.
They got no sympathy from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Russell Westbrook had 37 points and 10 rebounds, Kevin Durant scored 26, and Oklahoma City held off a second-half charge to beat the improving Lakers 122-105 on Tuesday night.
Bryant was able to score 30 points after returning from the injury, but a late rally fizzled as the Thunder scored the final 12 points of the game.
“Kobe didn’t look hurt to me,” Durant said. “We’re not going to feel sorry for them. If they’re out there playing, then they can play. Kobe looked fine. Dwight (Howard) looked fine.
“We know they’re a resilient team. They’ve been fighting hard all year. They made some shots in that second half.”
But Oklahoma City was the only one to connect when it counted the most.
The Thunder led from start to finish, letting their 18-point lead get whittled down to five midway through the fourth quarter. Serge Ibaka, who dodged a suspension after delivering a low blow against Blake Griffin in Oklahoma City’s previous game, hit a 3-pointer and Westbrook had a two-handed slam in the Thunder’s closing run.
“They’re a championship-caliber team, so they’re never going to give up and they kept fighting and cut it to five,” Durant said. “I think we did a really good job of staying composed throughout that little run that they made and we made some big shots.”
Steve Nash matched his season’s best with 20 points as the Lakers fell back below .500 after reaching the mark for the first time since December. His 3-pointer got Los Angeles as close as 110-105 with 6:14 remaining, but his team didn’t score again.
L.A. fell to 1-11 in road games against the teams that currently occupy the eight Western Conference playoff spots and is now 2½ games behind eighth-place Utah.
“You can always try to find positive things with anything,” Bryant said. “But for us right now, we’ve got to get some wins.”
Bryant said he took a shot to the “button” on the end of his elbow and had to figure out a way to adjust his shooting mechanics to deal with what the team called an ulnar nerve contusion.
“Every time you try to bend your elbow or extend it, there’s a little resistance and there’s a lot of pain,” Bryant said.
For a team that has already spent parts of this season without Howard, Nash and Pau Gasol — all of them All-Stars — the news wasn’t all that bad for the Lakers.
“I’m going to keep playing,” Bryant said. “This is the critical part of the season.”
Oklahoma City tied an NBA record with two turnovers. Milwaukee set the record in a game against Indiana on April 1, 2006, and Cleveland tied it in an overtime game against Portland on March 19, 2009.
In recent years, the Thunder have been among the worst teams in the league in turnovers, with Westbrook and Durant among the league leaders in most miscues.
“I think we’ve done a great job of just learning and trying to get better at it each and every game. Not really focusing on it but just making the right decisions,” said Westbrook, who traveled to commit one of the two.
After Nash’s 3-pointer got the Lakers within five, Nash and Metta World Peace each missed 3s during a string of four straight empty possessions with L.A. down by six. Ibaka then connected on a 3-pointer from the right corner to help the Thunder start pulling away.
World Peace finished with 16 points and Dwight Howard had six points and 16 rebounds before fouling out with 2:24 remaining.
By the time Bryant went out less than 4 minutes into the game, the Thunder had already delivered an opening 7-0 burst while Los Angeles missed its first 10 shots from the field.
Bryant air-balled his first shot from 3-point range and was grabbing at the elbow, even crossing up arms with Durant after the ball had been stolen away by Durant. Bryant was able to return about 4½ minutes later, making his first shot a left-handed hook. He dribbled predominantly with his left hand and even snagged one rebound by cradling it in his left arm.
But he wouldn’t join an injured list that includes Gasol, out two to four more weeks with a foot injury, and reserve Jordan Hill, out for the season after hip surgery.
Celtics 109, 76ers 101
PHILADELPHIA — Paul Pierce had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Avery Bradley scored 22 points to lead Boston.
Kevin Garnett scored 18 points to help the Celtics continued their push up the Eastern Conference standings. The Celtics entered in seventh, but were no more than two games behind the next three teams ahead in the standings.
Led by Pierce, the Celtics controlled the game and used a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to seal the win. Last May, these two teams went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. On Wednesday, the Sixers lost for the ninth time in 10 games and are well out of the playoff race.
Jrue Holiday had 18 points and 10 assists for the Sixers, and Thaddeus Young had 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Oklahoma City also closed the first half with seven straight points to go up 71-55 after Durant’s step-back jumper. It was the highest scoring first half of the season for Oklahoma City.
Nuggets 120, Kings 113
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ty Lawson had 24 points and Danilo Gallinari added 23 for the Nuggets as they won their sixth straight game.
The deep and talented Nuggets used a 36-point third quarter to build a lead against the Kings that they never relinquished in winning their season-best third straight road game. They scored 70 second-half points when they shot nearly 64 percent.
The streaking Nuggets have won seven of eight games, including 11 in a row at home, where they own a 26-3 record, which ties Miami for the best mark in the NBA.
Kenneth Faried had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Andre Miller scored 16 and Kosta Koufos had 15 points and eight rebounds for Denver.
Marcus Thornton continued his torrid scoring of late, making five 3-pointers and getting in 32 points for the Kings.
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