OKLAHOMA CITY • The Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans went into their match-up on Thursday with heavy hearts.
The death of Ingrid Williams, wife of Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams, following a car accident affected both National Basketball Association franchises. Monty was the Pelicans' head coach before being fired last season. His wife had been like a second mother to most of the players.
"I just love coach Monty so much, man," Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. "I feel for him, man. And it's somebody we all love, I just don't understand."
However, Pelicans centre Anthony Davis refused to use the tragedy as an excuse after the Thunder rolled to a 121-95 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"It was tough, but you have to still go out there and compete," he said. "That's what we tried to do."
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was one rebound shy of his ninth triple-double of the season as he collected 23 points, 10 assists and nine boards.
Durant scored 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting from the field to go along with six assists. Forward Serge Ibaka added 18 points as the Thunder improved to 40-14.
Oklahoma City head into the All-Star break as one of three teams in the Western Conference with at least 40 wins. According to Elias Sports, it is the first time in NBA history this has happened in any conference.
"I think we are great, man," Westbrook said. "Forty wins, I like where we are. Looking to come back in the second half of the season and turn it up a notch."
Davis scored 23 points to lead the Pelicans, but was limited to three rebounds and no blocked shots. Guard Jrue Holiday came off the bench to post 23 points and six assists as the Pelicans fell to 20-33.
"I thought we were hanging in," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "This is a real talented team. I just thought we had too many breakdowns defensively."
The first time the Pelicans and Thunder faced off earlier in the season, Davis was injured and Oklahoma City were able to take advantage of the All-Star centre's absence.
He was back in the line-up this time and made his presence felt from the opening tip. Not only was he able to score, but he opened up lanes for his team-mates to get shots off.
It was the Thunder bench who helped open up a double-digit lead in the second quarter, guard Anthony Morrow and forward Kyle Singler each knocked down perimeter shots when the Pelicans collapsed on Westbrook, who was attacking the basket.
Oklahoma City took a 62-53 advantage into half-time.
Even though Davis had a strong game scoring, the Thunder were able to contain him on the backboards. As a team, the Pelicans were outrebounded 50-31.
Oklahoma City led 95-74 entering the fourth quarter, and rested their starters in the final period.
"Defensively, I thought we turned our defence up in the second half," Westbrook said. "Did a great job of playing together."
While the Thunder rode into the All-Star break on top of their game, Davis said his team need to do some hard soul-searching during the time off.
"We just have to decide what type of team we want to be," he said. "What can we bring to the table besides scoring. Make sure that we trust in each other and are playing for each other. Whether you can make the play-offs or not, you want to establish a culture for the upcoming years."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE