The Oklahoma City Thunder regained top spot in the Western Conference in some style on Monday after blasting the Milwaukee Bucks 109-89.
The Thunder had sat atop the West for most of the season, but an 11-game winning streak by surging San Antonio put the Spurs percentage points in front heading into the night.
The teams flipped positions after Oklahoma City took care of their business in Milwaukee and the Spurs later lost to the Utah Jazz after deciding to rest key veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Oklahoma City (42-15) cruised behind 26 points from Russell Westbrook and 19 from Kevin Durant as they raced out to a 35-18 first-quarter lead which they never looked like relinquishing.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Westbrook told reporters. “If you want to be able to win championships in this league, you’ve got to be able to come out every night, regardless if it’s home or on the road, to impose your will on teams.”
The Bucks (28-29) are trying to close in on the last playoff spot in the East, but they fell 1.5 games behind eighth place after a frustrating night where they earned five technical fouls, including two for forward Larry Sanders, who was ejected.
The game featured some tense moments, including a first-half confrontation between Mike Dunleavy and the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka, who grabbed Dunleavy’s arm as the two went face-to-face and were both assessed technicals.
However, Milwaukee could not turn their passion into production and they were outmatched in every department.
Ersan Ilyasova led the way with 18 points, but the home team got little out of trade acquisition Monta Ellis, who made just three of 12 shots for nine points.
The Thunder defense had a lot to do with that as Thabo Sefolosha recorded seven steals and Ibaka added five blocks to help their team to a second straight win after a three-game skid.
“[Ibaka] protects the basket so well,” Durant said. “It makes it easier for our defense. Sometimes when we get broken down on the wing, Serge is there to help us out.”
LAKERS 93, HORNETS 91
In New Orleans, Pau Gasol had 25 points and nine rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers overcame Kobe Bryant’s absence to beat the New Orleans Hornets.
Bryant missed his second straight game with a sore left shin, but Ramon Sessions helped pick up the slack with 17 points, including a three-pointer that put the Lakers ahead by six with 26 seconds left. Andrew Bynum added 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who snapped a two-game skid.
Carl Landry had 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Marco Belinelli scored 20 points for New Orleans, who led by as much as eight points in the fourth quarter, before the Lakers stormed back.
Greivis Vasquez added 18 points and 11 assists for the Hornets, hitting a career-high five three-pointers on six attempts. Chris Kaman had 16 points and five blocked shots.
GRIZZLIES 94, CLIPPERS 85
In Memphis, Tennessee, Marc Gasol scored 18 points and Rudy Gay had 16 as the Grizzlies held on to beat the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo added 13 each for Memphis, who won for the eighth time in 10 games and moved a half game behind the Clippers for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
Marreese Speights finished with 12 points, while Zach Randolph added 10 points and 12 rebounds as the Grizzlies finished with a 48-36 rebounding edge, but committed 20 turnovers.