Thunder watch 27-point lead vanish, but regroup to beat Magic

Michael Kinney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City can't seem to do anything easy these days. Even when playing against a team with one of the worst records in the NBA, they seem make the job tougher than expected.
Facing Orlando, the Thunder won 117-104 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, but only after letting a 27-point lead dwindle 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 left.
After Nelson hit a 3-pointer, Durant answered with an old-fashioned 3-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 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."
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 Afflalo scored 20 points.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was extremely impressed with what he got out of Vucevic.
"Just great interior plays for us," Vaughn said. "He played big tonight on the boards. Great decision making when he had the basketball. Looked like the Nik we like to see."
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.
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 draft 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.
"I think it's always important that we always keep fighting," Harris said. "We got down a lot, but we didn't hang our head. We knew if we got some stops on the defensive end, we would be fine. It shows a lot from our guys to just continue to battle back."
NOTES: With Hasheem Thabeet sitting out against Orlando with a sore back, Oklahoma City had lost only 20 games because of injury or illness. Only three of those games have come from the starting five. ... Rarely does Oklahoma City lose to teams with losing records. Entering Friday, the Thunder owned a 26-3 record against teams that were under .500 at the time. However, they have a 1-2 record against the two conference leaders, the Spurs and Heat. "We've been a team that is really focused on playing every game the best that we can play," Brooks said. "We have to focus on what we do." ... In a season of tough losses, the one bright spot for Orlando has been the acquisition of Harris. The power forward has averaged 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds since coming over from Milwaukee prior to the trade deadline. That includes posting 17 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to the Lakers Tuesday. "We knew that he would be able to contribute," Vaughn said. "To what level, we had to wait to see until he got with us. He has really fit in pretty seamlessly. It's been great to see. Really competitive guy. He has caught on pretty fast."

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