March 29, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) guards Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the second half of the game at the Staples Center. Thunder won 102-93. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Russell Westbrook scored 36 and Kevin Durant 21 as Oklahoma City erased a 12-point deficit and won convincingly in L.A. The Thunder have now beaten the Heat and the Lakers this week. They next face the Bulls, another chance to prove that they have arrived as a title threat.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have the best record in the Western Conference, but there's still a mystique surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have the banners, and they still have many of the players that have led them to the NBA Finals and to two NBA Titles in the last three seasons.
On Thursday night, the Thunder couldn't care less about that Laker mystique. They took the Lakers' best shot early in the game, and kept right on coming. Trailing by 12 after the first, the Thunder, led by Russell Westbrook's 36 points, dominated the rest of the game on their way to a 102-93 victory.
Kevin Durant started off cold for Oklahoma City, missing his first eight shots, which was a major part of the Lakers' early lead. But once he got the lid off the basket, he and Westbrook were simply too much for the Lakers to handle. Durant scored 19 of his 21 points after the first quarter, on 9-13 shooting. Westbrook finished the game 13-27, and also handed out six assists while committing just a single turnover. Westbrook's constant attacking had the Lakers on their heels, and he was also surprisingly efficient from the midrange.
Durant has won two consecutive NBA scoring titles, but this year he's second in scoring average, a half a point per game behind one Kobe Bryant. Bryant outscored Durant Thursday night -- but he used a lot of shots to do so. Bryant finished with 23 points, but made just 7 of 25 shots. A lot of the credit for Bryant's poor shooting night has to go to the defense of Thabo Sefolosha. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 25 points on 10-15 shooting. Bynum also had 13 rebounds -- and, significantly, zero three-point attempts as the Lakers at least managed to avoid any major drama for the first time in three games.
The Thunder have now won five straight, including wins over the Heat and the Lakers this week. They play the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, owners of the best record in the NBA, followed a couple of games later by a rematch with the Heat, this time in Miami. This stretch of their schedule seems designed as a direct challenge to the team -- are you for real? Can you beat the teams you will have to beat to win a title? So far, the answer has been a resounding yes.
The victory solidifies Oklahoma City's position at the top of the Western Conference standings. At 39-12, they are now a full three games ahead of the second-place Spurs. In fact, they're just a game behind the Bulls in the loss column, so with a win over Chicago on National TV Sunday, they could position themselves to finish the season with the best overall record in the entire league.
For the Lakers, it was just their fifth home loss against 20 wins. It drops them to 31-20 overall, just a game ahead of the Clippers in the loss column for first place in the Pacific Division and third in the West.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.