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OKC Thunder gets back on track with win over Portland Trail Blazers

Russell Westbrook scored 28 points, Kevin Durant had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder began work on restoring their home-court dominance, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 111-95 on Sunday night.
BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, Published: March 18, 2012

The Thunder began the fourth quarter Sunday night owning a 14-point lead over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Surely, the team with the best record in the Western Conference would be able to hang on at home, right?

Ummm, maybe. A valid question, though.

It's been a funky two weeks for OKC, losing three of its previous four games at Chesapeake Energy Arena, a place where it once boasted a 17-1 record and owned a 14-game winning streak.

There was a loss to the 14-23 Cleveland Cavaliers. Then came the worst loss of the season, a 104-103 setback to the Houston Rockets with the Thunder leading by 11 with 2½ minutes left. Most recent was the 114-105 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, where a commendable comeback couldn't overcome the harsh reality that OKC trailed by 27 points after the first 20½ minutes.

The Blazers had all the makings of being easy prey. They arrived with a newly appointed, 34-year-old interim head coach who started out eight years ago as the team's video intern. They also had just gotten rid of four players, including two starters and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.

The Thunder indeed won, posting a 111-95 victory as another sellout crowd of 18,203 roared it approval.

“You're looking at a team that lost their last game at home and they were fired up,” Portland guard Raymond Felton said afterward. “It happens sometimes.”

The beginning of the fourth quarter did get interesting, however.

The Blazers had trimmed the deficit to 84-76, and OKC was inbounding the ball underneath its basket with 1.1 seconds left on the shot clock.

James Harden, who in the first quarter had injured the index finger on his left (shooting) hand, had not made a field goal all night and also had missed three of his first four free throws.

As Harden launched a let-him-have-it 30-footer to beat the shot clock, the basketball gods finally smiled upon the recently Thunderstruck home team.

Portland power forward Craig Smith inexplicably fouled Harden in the act of shooting. A reprieved Harden drained all three free throws to re-stabilize OKC with a double-digit lead.

On a night when it nearly shot better from 3-point range (61.1 percent) than it did from the free-throw line (64.3 percent), the Thunder commendably did not allow recent events to enter its psyche.

OKC (34-11) still owns a four-game lead in the Western Conference and a nine-game advantage in the Northwest Division.

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