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Russell Westbrook leads Thunder past Bulls 98-85

Jan 5, 2010 - 4:58 AM CHICAGO(AP) -- Kevin Durant says Russell Westbrook has carried the Oklahoma City Thunder. Statistics suggested otherwise - until Monday night.

Durant didn't reach 30 points for the first time in eight games and he didn't lead his team in scoring for only the sixth time all season. Thanks largely to Westbrook's 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists, the Thunder won anyway, beating the Chicago Bulls 98-85.

"I'm not going into every game saying, 'I've got to score 30 for us to win,"' said Durant, who finished with 25 - just below his 28.4-point average, fourth-best in the NBA.

"I just go out there and play within the offense. That's what everybody's doing. We pass the ball to each other. That's what great teams do."

At 19-15, the Thunder aren't great yet. But the league's second-youngest team has won six of its last seven games and is turning heads with its exciting, aggressive style.

And Westbrook is the point guard who runs the show.

"We've been riding on Russell," Durant said. "You're going to have to worry about him when he's scoring like that. And he can pass so well, he opens up a lot of things for everybody else."

Westbrook and Durant took over the game in the third quarter, when the Thunder shot 65 percent to Chicago's 22 percent. They scored eight points apiece during a 27-6 run, and the Bulls never seriously threatened.

"Coach (Scott Brooks) got on us at halftime about defense and rebounding," Westbrook said. "And I've been settling for too many jump shots lately. I just wanted to get back to attacking the basket."

Derrick Rose scored 19 points and Joakim Noah had 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were booed repeatedly in the second half.

"That third quarter really hurt us. There were a lot of mistakes out there," Noah said.

Since reports emerged that coach Vinny Del Negro's job was in jeopardy and general manager Gar Forman refused to give him a vote of confidence, the Bulls had won four straight.

In Monday's second half, Del Negro said, Chicago played the way it had before the winning streak.

"We got in that rut again where we didn't score enough to put any pressure on them," he said. "We got stagnant. We did not defend very well. They got some easy baskets. We settled for too many jump shots and didn't have enough ball movement."

The Bulls led 56-49 early in the second half when they stopped scoring and the Thunder started hitting shots. Westbrook's driving layup and Durant's 3-pointer capped a 15-4 run that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay, 64-60, with 6:38 left in the third.

After Luol Deng made a jumper, the Thunder scored the next 12 points for a 76-62 lead. At that point, Oklahoma City was 12 of 17 from the field in the quarter while the Bulls were 5 of 29.

Rose outscored the Thunder 7-2 to pull the Bulls within 10 points with 3:33 to go. But Westbrook responded with a basket and Durant hit two free throws to wrap up the victory.

"We can't get happy or satisfied," said Durant, whose team is 10-8 on the road. "We've just got to continue playing that way and hopefully wins continue to pile on. These last couple of weeks, we've picked it up on the defensive end, which wins games."

NOTES: Westbrook's string of double-digit assist games was snapped at four. He had none in the first half. ... After the first quarter, officials took a basket away from Bulls F Tyrus Thomas when a video review showed his shot at the 2:09 mark failed to beat the 24-second shot clock buzzer. ... It was Oklahoma City's fifth victory in 19 games when failing to score 100 points. The team is 14-1 when it hits the century mark.

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