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Sports

April 15, 2012

Thunder duo combines for 78 vs. Wolves

— MINNEAPOLIS — At one point during the fourth quarter, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman was so desperate to stop Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that he put 6-foot-11 Anthony Randolph on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s star point guard.

That, like practically everything else the Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA have tried this season, didn’t work, either.

Durant scored 43 points and Westbrook had 35 and eight assists to keep the Thunder atop the Western Conference with a 115-110 victory over the Timberwolves on Saturday night.

“I don’t think we ever thought we’d be putting Randolph on Westbrook in the fourth quarter and whoever on Durant,” Adelman said. “We were trying anything to find answers.”

Try again.

Durant scored 16 in the final seven minutes for the Thunder (44-16), who started the day one game ahead of the Spurs — but tied in the loss column — for the top seed in the West. After a three-game losing streak earlier this month, the Thunder have won four of their last five games.

“We want to win as much games as we can going down to the stretch of the season,” Durant said. “Hopefully we get (the No. 1 seed). If not, we’ve just got to keep playing. We can’t worry about that. We’ve just got to worry about how we can get better every single game.”

Anthony Randolph had 22 points and 11 rebounds and Michael Beasley scored 26 for the Timberwolves, who lost their ninth straight game and 25th in a row in April dating to 2009.

The Wolves were without All-Star Kevin Love, who missed his second straight game with a concussion. J.J. Barea had 24 points and 10 assists, but Minnesota missed 12 free throws.

Barea’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to 112-110 with 13.8 seconds to play, but Westbrook iced the game at the line, where the Thunder hit 28 of 32 shots.

Serge Ibaka had eight points, 12 rebounds and five blocks and James Harden returned from a one-game absence because of a sore right knee. He scored six on 1-for-11 shooting.

The Wolves gave the Thunder all they could handle in their first two meetings, losing 104-100 in the season opener and 149-140 in an epic double overtime game in Oklahoma City on March 23. But they had Love in both of those games and weren’t expected to give the mighty Thunder much trouble on Saturday night playing without Love, Ricky Rubio (knee) and Luke Ridnour (ankle).

The Thunder appeared to be taking control with a 10-0 run to start the third quarter, but Beasley and Randolph kept the plucky Wolves in the game and Barea looked more like the annoying pest who helped the Mavericks win the title last season.

Randolph converted a three-point play and knocked down a jumper, Malcolm Lee had a three-point play and Beasley hit a 15-footer to cut the lead to 91-90 with 10 minutes to play.

“We’re just out there trying to be scrappy,” Beasley said. “Kevin might not be here for the rest of the season. That’s 26 points, sometimes 40 points and 20 boards. Everybody has to step up and we’re trying to finish this season with a bang.”

Durant simply had an answer for every Wolves push. He blew by Anthony Tolliver for a dunk, knocked down a silky jump shot from the wing, scored on a back-down in the post and drove past Randolph for another bucket and a 105-97 lead with just under 4 minutes to go.

He even came up big on defense, forcing a traveling violation by Randolph and poking the ball away to create a fast-break bucket for Westbrook to hold the Wolves off.

“Sometimes I don’t have to score, I can make a pass, but my teammates did a great job man,” Durant said. “Russell had it going in the third and he sacrificed for me to get some easy baskets.”

Westbrook was 12 of 25 from the floor, and he’s received some criticism for the amount of shots he takes and not being more of a playmaking point guard that keeps his teammates, particularly Durant, more involved. Adelman scoffed at that notion before the game, saying “everybody doesn’t have to be John Stockton.”

“If they’re really down on him, he can come over here,” Adelman deadpanned. “I’ll let him play.”

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