OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Things are starting to click for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Russell Westbrook had 21 points and seven assists and the Thunder beat the Chicago Bulls 92-79 on Wednesday night for their third straight victory.
Oklahoma City had high hopes coming into the season after trading for All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, but the Thunder had lost four straight before getting things turned around to even their record at 7-7.
“From here, we’re kind of gaining some momentum,” George said. “We’re getting consistency from our level of play standpoint. I think we’re starting to come together for the most part. Again, we’re obviously not where we want to be. There’s always going to be a level of improvement, but we’re trending in the right direction.”
Anthony returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with a sore lower back and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Jerami Grant added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Thunder led 27-7 at the end of the first quarter to match the fewest points they have allowed in a quarter since the franchise moved from Seattle in 2008. The Bulls made 2 of 16 field goals in the period.
“Just setting the tone,” Westbrook said. “Thought we did a good job of being aggressive, using our hands. That’s how we win games.”
Lauri Markkanen and Antonio Blakeney each scored 16 points for Chicago, and Denzel Valentine added 13. The Bulls shot 34.7 percent from the field.
“We fought from the second quarter on, but again, we’re down 20 in the first quarter with a seven-point quarter,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You’re not breeding any confidence for yourselves. So it’s a mindset. You’ve got to come out and see that thing go through the hoop. It’s going to give you a little confidence. Right now, we don’t have a lot, especially early in games.”
The Thunder led 58-34 at halftime. Westbrook didn’t score until 6:43 remained in the second quarter, but finished the half with 17 points.
“He does that to a lot of people,” Hoiberg said. “He’s so explosive. There’s a reason he was the MVP last season.”
Though the Thunder were never threatened in the second half, they had hoped to finish better. They shot 22 percent after the break.
“In the second half, we never got into a rhythm,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Never played to an identity. I thought our defense, for the most part, was pretty good for the full 48. We had some lapses. But I thought offensively, that’s where we got to really move the ball and make them work and find ways to break the defense down better than we did in the third and the fourth.”
Bulls: Were coming off a 133-94 loss to San Antonio. … Starters shot 1 for 11 from the field in the first quarter. … Valentine was the only Bulls player to make more than two field goals in the first half.
Thunder: C Steven Adams missed his third straight game with a right calf contusion. … Won the first meeting with the Bulls 101-69 on Oct. 28. … Grant made a layup off an inbounds pass in the final second of the first half. … George finished with 13 points after scoring 42 and 37 points in his previous two games.
Oklahoma City’s wins during the current streak have come by an average of 11.7 points. All of the Thunder’s wins this season have been by at least nine points. All the losses have been by nine or fewer.
Westbrook, on being focused against a struggling team: “We did a good job of just coming out and being consistent, staying with our principles, playing Thunder basketball and not worrying about the opponents.”
Bulls: Host the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.
Thunder: At San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.