OKLAHOMA CITY — In a reversal of roles, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers know they’re the predators trying to track down Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
They have some work to do.
Durant had 36 points, Russell Westbrook scored 27 of his 33 in the first half to stake Oklahoma City to a commanding lead and the Thunder beat the short-handed Lakers 114-108 Friday night.
“They’re a team that everybody likes. As a young team coming up, you always want to beat the best," Westbrook said. “I think that’s one of the things that motivates us."
Bryant had 35 points for Los Angeles, which trailed by as many as 19 before rallying to get within four in the final minute.
Dwight Howard added 23 points and 18 rebounds for the Lakers, who were eliminated by the Thunder in five games in last season’s Western Conference semifinals. Howard and Steve Nash were part of an offseason overhaul to try and catch up to the Thunder.
Instead, the Lakers are 9-11 and focusing on small gains that give them the belief they’ll eventually turn it around.
“It’s 82 games. This team has just gotten together," Howard said. “It’s not like we’re going to get together and start winning right away. ... We’re learning how to play together. We’re getting better. This is not on anybody’s time table but ours."
Westbrook’s big first half put the Thunder in control, but L.A. charged back with a late 27-12 run to make it interesting.
The game grew tense when Metta World Peace — already a public enemy in Oklahoma City after he clocked James Harden last season — and Serge Ibaka each got technical fouls for a confrontation in the closing minutes.
The Lakers never backed down. After trailing by 12 with 1:32 remaining, Jodie Meeks drove for a pair of layups and Chris Duhon followed with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 110-105. Bryant followed Durant’s two free throws with a 3-pointer from the corner to get the deficit down to four with 15 seconds left.
Durant hit two foul shots and Meeks airballed a 3-pointer as the rally fizzled.
“They’re a tough team," Durant said. “They fought hard all night and made it tough on us."
Also on Friday:
NEW ORLEANS — Rudy Gay tied a season high with 28 points and Memphis maintained its NBA-best winning percentage with its second-straight victory. The Grizzlies improved to 14-3 (.823).
PHILADELPHIA — Evan Turner had 26 points and 10 rebounds and Thaddeus Young added 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead Philadelphia past Boston in overtime. Turner drove past Courtney Lee and tossed up an off-balance, right-handed shot for a 95-94 lead with 3.9 seconds left.
INDIANAPOLIS — Andre Miller scored eight of his 15 points during a late 10-0 spurt, sending Denver past Indiana.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Joakim Noah had career highs of 30 points and 23 rebounds to help Chicago beat Detroit for the 16th straight time.
SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker had 17 points and seven assists, and San Antonio never trailed in a win over Houston.
NEW YORK — David Lee had 30 points and 15 rebounds, Stephen Curry scored 28 points, and Golden State gave coach Mark Jackson a winning return to Brooklyn.
ATLANTA — Josh Smith had 23 points and 15 rebounds, Al Horford also posted a double-double and Atlanta beat Washington to keep the Wizards winless on the road.
MILWAUKEE — Ersan Ilyasova scored a season-high 21 points and Marquis Daniels had season highs with 18 points and six rebounds as Milwaukee took command early and cruised past Charlotte.
SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Millsap scored 20 points, Enes Kanter had 18 in his first career start and Utah hit 13 3-pointers to rout Toronto.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — DeMarcus Cousins had 17 points and 14 rebounds and reserve guard Isaiah Thomas also scored 17 to help Sacramento beat Orlando.
MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Love had 36 points and 13 rebounds to lead Minnesota past Cleveland.