BY CLIFF BRUNT
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Billy Donovan has heard questions all season about Russell Westbrook’s shaky shooting.
He hasn’t been concerned because Westbrook does everything else so well.
The 2017 MVP posted his NBA-leading 15th triple-double and Oklahoma City beat the injury-depleted New Orleans Pelicans 122-116 on Thursday night.
“He impacts the game in so many different ways,” Donovan said. “He can do it through rebounding, he can do it through defense, he can do it through assists, he can do it through getting out in transition. He does a lot of different things to impact the game, so when people talked to me earlier on about his shooting — I’m really not worried about it.”
In this game, Westbrook’s shot wasn’t so bad, either. He finished with 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting and had 17 rebounds and 16 assists. The Thunder improved to 10-5 this season when he tallies a triple-double.
“He is a once-in-a-generation kind of guy,” Thunder forward Abdel Nader said. “He’s special. On both ends, he plays with the energy level I think some guys wish they could play with.”
Paul George had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Steven Adams added 20 points and 13 rebounds for Oklahoma City, which won its fourth straight.
The Pelicans were without star center Anthony Davis, who missed his third straight game with a left index finger sprain, and the team announced Thursday that Nikola Mirotic will be out at least a week with a right calf strain. New Orleans forward Julius Randle sat out with a right ankle sprain and guard E’Twaun Moore rested because of nagging injuries.
Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 13 assists, and Darius Miller matched a career high with 21 points for New Orleans.
“I thought we competed as hard as we possibly could and played very unselfishly,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We just didn’t have enough firepower to get over the hump.”
The revamped lineup presented a challenge for Oklahoma City.
“You’ve got to learn guys’ tendencies on the go, figure out the guys that they are throwing in there, learn the personnel on the fly,” George said.
Oklahoma City led 65-53 at halftime behind 18 points from Adams. Westbrook secured his triple-double early in the third quarter, and the Thunder rolled to a 98-82 lead at the end of the period.
The Pelicans rallied, but never got closer than five in the final quarter.
“They just put different and weird lineups out there and they had a little momentum going,” George said. “We did what we had to do. We did enough to win tonight.”
Gentry felt there were positives to take away from challenging a team the caliber of the Thunder with so many players out. Oklahoma City is in third place in the Western Conference standings.
“It seemed every time we got down, we found a way to get back in the game,” he said.
Pelicans: C Jahlil Okafor scored 18 points in his sixth start of the season. … G Elfrid Payton had 15 points and 12 assists. … New Orleans has lost four of five.
Thunder: G Alex Abrines sat out his 11th straight game for personal reasons. He was active, but Donovan said Abrines is not ready to play yet. … George was announced as an All-Star starter on Thursday. … Mirotic, who averages 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, was injured Wednesday night against Detroit. … It was the 119th triple-double of Westbrook’s career.
Westbrook has been especially dynamic during Oklahoma City’s win streak. He’s averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists on 44.4 percent shooting. He has resisted his tendency to launch 3-pointers, only taking 15 in the four games combined.
HE SAID IT
George, on being named an All-Star starter: “When I got traded here (from Indiana), people thought it was going to be the end of me being an All-Star, coming out to the West.”
The Pelicans host the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.
The Thunder host the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
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