Bulls

Thunder Stomp Bulls, 1 Game Back For Best Record

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Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder protects the ball from Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls during the game between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 1, 2012 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder protects the ball from Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls during the game between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 1, 2012 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook scored 27 points, Kevin Durant added 26 points and 10 rebounds and the Oklahoma City Thunder used a dominating third quarter to beat Chicago 92-78 on Sunday and move within a game of the Bulls in the race for the NBA’s best record.

The Thunder (40-12) pulled away by outscoring Chicago 31-12 in the third quarter, allowing the Bulls to make only five of their 21 shots.

Oklahoma City clinched a playoff berth in the process, with the help of tiebreakers over the teams fighting for the Western Conference’s final spot in the postseason.

The Bulls (42-12) played without All-Star point guard Derrick Rose for the 10th straight game, falling to 14-6 this season without the reigning MVP and 7-3 during his current absence with a groin injury.

Reserve John Lucas III led the Bulls with 19 points. Kyle Korver replaced a slumping Ronnie Brewer in the starting lineup and scored 14.

Over the past two Sundays, the Thunder have handed the East’s top two teams lopsided defeats. Oklahoma City handed the Heat their biggest loss of the season, 103-87, last Sunday.

The Bulls, who had not lost by more than 17 this season, only avoided their biggest loss when Lucas hit two 3-pointers in the final minute.

Durant and Westbrook were a combined 21-for-34 from the field and Oklahoma City shot 49 percent while limiting the Bulls to 33 percent.

Chicago came in with the NBA’s best road record at 21-6 and on a seven-game road winning streak, two shy of the franchise record set during the 1995-96 season when the Bulls set an NBA record by going 72-10.

The Bulls let Oklahoma City score the final six points of the first half to fall behind 49-39, and it quickly got worse after the break.

Westbrook was at his best during a 13-0 run that put the Thunder firmly in control in the opening 5 minutes of the second half. He hit a jumper, a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer during the burst but his most dynamic play came when he zoomed in front of Luol Deng’s crosscourt pass, snagged it and whipped it back inbounds to a teammate to get the crowd on its feet.

Durant followed Joakim Noah’s three-point play with a 3-pointer and a two-handed slam off of Westbrook’s alley-oop from half court, and Oklahoma City kept pouring it on.

Serge Ibaka had a right-handed dunk, Nick Collison had a two-handed slam while getting fouled and Westbrook threw down a right-handed jam over 7-footer Omer Asik, thumping his chest twice after he came down. Durant topped it off by hitting a 3-pointer to close the quarter and make it 80-51.

Neither team’s starters played in the fourth quarter, when the Bulls fell behind by 30 for the first time this season.

Notes: Chicago’s Richard Hamilton (right shoulder) was a game-time decision. He has missed 14 straight games and played in only 16 of Chicago’s 54 games with a variety of injuries. “I’ve just got to be convinced. It’s more me,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He thinks he’s ready but I just want to make sure we’re smart.” … The Bulls have not had consecutive losses in 86 games, the second-longest streak in NBA history behind Utah’s 95-game run from November 1997 to March 1999. … Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks had high praise for his coaching counterpart. Thibodeau was an assistant coach in Minnesota and New York when Brooks played for those teams. “The guy has no life,” Brooks said after a series of compliments. “Even when he was young as an assistant, he never wanted to go out to dinner with me. He had things to do. He’s boring.” Thibodeau wouldn’t argue but retorted it was “from coaching him.”

(© 2012 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.)

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