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SPORTS: Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook's Big Night Leads Thunder Past Charlotte

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

It was only a matter of time before the Russell Westbrook the NBA had become accustomed to over the years returned.

Sunday night was that night.

Westbrook scored 26 points on a career-best field goal percentage to lead Oklahoma City to a 116-99 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on a frigid night in Oklahoma City.

Westbrook hit 10-of-12 from the field, including his first eight shots of the game. His efficiency was much needed on a night when Kevin Durant—who still managed to score 28 points—wasn't his normal, efficient self. Durant was just 8-of-24 from the field and suffered a stretch of 14 consecutive misses after a 5-of-6 start to the game. The streak ended with a two-handed flush with 47.1 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

The Thunder had failed miserably on the defensive end in the fourth quarter of the past three games, but clamped down on Sunday. Going into the period, the Thunder led by just four, but OKC held Charlotte to just 4-of-13 shooting in the final 12 minutes and just 18 points. Meanwhile, the Thunder, led by Reggie Jackson's 10 points—used a 16-2 run to turn a 96-90 game into a 112-92 laugher. Jackson finished with 17 points, leading a bench unit that put up 39 points.

Serge Ibaka added another double-double for the Thunder of 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Al Jefferson led the Bobcats with 25 points, but was the only Charlotte starter in double figures. The Bobcats' bench did a lot of damage to the Thunder, combining for 52 points and all eight of the team's 3-pointers. Anthony Tolliver led Charlotte with 17 points and four 3-pointers. Gary Neal had 12 points while Cody Zeller had 10.

Westbrook went over his 25-minute limit the past two games, but that wasn't necessary after the Thunder's big fourth quarter run. His performance was comforting for the Thunder and their fans, particularly since it was announced before the game that Thabo Sefolosha would miss the next four-to-six weeks with a calf strain suffered in the first quarter of Friday night's win over Memphis.

The most surprising part of Westbrook's game since his return has been his 3-point shooting. A career 30 percent 3-point shooter, Westbrook was 4-of-5 from deep on Sunday and is 10-of-19 from 3-point range since he returned to the lineup five games ago.

Oklahoma City is clearly better with Westbrook in the lineup, and it appears Westbrook is returning to his normal self after a couple of rough shooting performances. However, it also appears Westbrook has returned an even better player than before. If that's the case, not even injuries to Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins will slow the Thunder down.

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