Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sparked the Oklahoma City Thunder to a hard-fought win over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday as a 24-point effort from James Harden ended in vain.
Durant bagged 23 points while Westbrook collected his 15th triple double of the season with 21 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds as the Thunder improved to 49-22 with their fifth straight victory.
Westbrook’s contribution included a decisive spell late in the fourth quarter when a three-point play put Oklahoma 92-90 ahead before he added a free throw immediately afterward to extend the lead to three points.
Houston clawed their way back to trail by only one point with 11.8 seconds left but a superb defensive play from Dion Waiters, leaping high to deflect a pass, effectively saved the game for the Thunder.
Elsewhere, the Charlotte Hornets gave their fans another rollercoaster ride to score a 105-100 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in New York.
The Hornets had recovered from a 22-point deficit to stun the San Antonio Spurs on Monday but on Tuesday the shoe was on the other foot as they survived blowing a 17-point lead to hang on for the win.
Nicolas Batum scored 23 points and Jeremy Lin added 21 as the Hornets held their nerve in the decisive fourth quarter.
Batum and Lin made 15 of 28 shots from the field, including six of eight in the final 12 minutes.
“I think (Batum) is just confident. He made Jeremy play really well again tonight,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said.
“Nicolas really made the plays with the game on the line. When we needed him, he really made the big plays.”
Nets centre Brook Lopez bemoaned his team’s failure to complete a comeback victory after they had recovered their early deficit.
“I think it really just came down to them making shots and we didn’t,” Lopez said.
“We got some good looks, and ours just didn’t go down. It was unfortunate that we put ourselves in a hole in the beginning of the game.”
In New Orleans, Dwyane Wade scored 25 points as the Miami Heat notched their 12th victory in 17 games with a 113-99 victory over the Pelicans.
But the crucial contribution came from Hassan Whiteside, whose 24-point haul included nine points in the final five-and-a-half minutes.
“He’s developed his overall game,” said Wade. “There are other times when he ducks in and we’re able to get him the ball in his sweet spot on the post. He was the biggest guy out there.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside made crucial defensive plays down the stretch, highlighting his improvement.
“You saw him challenging in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter basically everything at the rim,” Spoelstra said.
“You can’t just play the rim, and he’s taken steps forward with that.”< © AFP