By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City can’t seem to do anything easily these days. Even when playing against a team with one of the worst records in the NBA, the Thunder seem to make the job tougher than expected.
Facing Orlando, Oklahoma City won 117-104 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, but only after letting a 27-point lead dwindle down to single digits.
“The bright spot about this game is it’s over with,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We were inconsistent throughout the game. We pride ourselves on being more focused on every possession. That was not the case tonight. It’s something we have to get better at.”
Oklahoma City has won each of its last seven home games by an average of 22.4 points per game. However, this one was not without its share of drama.
The Thunder (49-17) led by four points with six minutes left in the game. The Magic (18-48) had three straight possessions with a chance to cut the lead in half or better, but they came up empty each time.
Serge Ibaka gave the Thunder a five-point advantage when he hit one of two free throws. Ibaka then came up with a block on Jameer Nelson that got Oklahoma City running, and it ended with Kevin Durant getting a layup that put the home team up by seven with 4:26 remaining.
After Nelson hit a 3-pointer, Durant answered with an old-fashioned three-point play. Tobias Harris scored, but once again, Oklahoma City had an answer. As the shot clock ticked down, Russell Westbrook drained a 3-pointer and put the Thunder up 112-104 at the 2:06 mark.
Oklahoma City came up with consecutive defensive stops that closed the night on the Magic. Even though they got the win, Brooks hopes his team does not believe they can just turn it on and off whenever they want.
“If that’s the case, you are setting yourself up for not a lot of good results,” Brooks said. “No matter who you play, you can’t change your mindset depending on your opponent.”
The Thunder were in position to clinch a playoff spot with a Golden State loss Friday night.. The Warriors were still playing as of press time.
Nelson led the Magic with 26 points on 10-for-21 shooting. That included going 5 for 12 from behind the arc. Nikola Vucevic added 21 points and 14 rebounds while Arron Affalo scored 20 points.
Durant paced the Thunder with 26 points and nine rebounds to go along with six turnovers. That gave him 14 turnovers in the last two games.
Westbrook chipped in with 23 points, six assists and six rebounds. Ibaka scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds.
“We made plays on both ends,” Durant said. “We passed the ball and made some shots in the fourth. It was a disappointing effort in the third, but I liked the way we finished.”
The game began to get out of hand for the Magic in the second quarter. And it was the Thunder bench that did most of the damage. First round pick Perry Jones came off the bench and had six points, two rebounds and a block in the first four minutes. It was his first meaningful action in weeks.
“I felt comfortable thanks to the vets,” Jones said. “They’ve been talking to me and getting me ready. They’ve definitely been preparing me since shoot around today.”
The Oklahoma City lead jumped to 27 points midway through the second quarter.
The Thunder had 10 players score at least four points in the first half.
But it was Durant’s driving layup right before the end of the half that gave the Thunder their biggest first-half scoring output this season. Oklahoma City led 73-56 at halftime.
“Guys weren’t worried about shooting the ball,” Durant said. “We were worried about passing and finding the open shot. The second half the ball got sticky.”
Spearheaded by Vucevic and Nelson, Orlando closed the gap to 92-84 with 30 seconds left in the third. But Westbrook hit a 3-pointer to close out the period and stem the Magic tide. The Thunder went up 95-84 heading into fourth.
“We made plays when we needed to and of course we are still growing,” Durant said. “But I’m not disappointed in a win. We never try and take those for granted because I remember when we weren’t winning games.”
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