NBA Wrap: Durant leads Thunder past Clippers

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NBA Wrap: Durant leads Thunder past Clippers

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant had 28 points and eight assists, another Thunder fan hit a half-court heave and Oklahoma City beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-91 Thursday night.

For the second straight game, a Thunder rooter made a midcourt basket during a second-quarter promotion to win $20,000. High school business teacher Brad Brucker was congratulated by recording artists Beyonce and Jay-Z, who sat in courtside seats next to Durant's family.

Serge Ibaka scored 17 points and blocked three shots and Russell Westbrook added 12 points for Oklahoma City, which has won its first five home games of the season for the first time since starting 2004-05 in Seattle.

Oklahoma City led all the way, taking a quick 10-point advantage and never leading by less than six points after that in the matchup of Western Conference powers.

Blake Griffin scored 27 points on 12-for-23 shooting and also had 10 rebounds for the Clippers. He's had a 20-10 double in 10 of the last 12 games, and has posted an NBA-high 100 such games since the start of the 2010-11 season (see full recap).

Nuggets end Bulls' five-game streak
DENVER -- Nate Robinson and Jordan Hamilton each hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter, helping the Denver Nuggets pull away for a 97-87 victory against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.

Hamilton finished with 17 points to lead the Nuggets, who their seventh straight against the Bulls at the Pepsi Center. J.J. Hickson had 14 points, Kenneth Faried had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Randy Foye also scored 12 points.

Derrick Rose had 19 points for the Bulls, who snapped a five-game winning streak.

Robinson, who spent last season with the Bulls, started a 12-0 burst when he hit successive 3s opening the final period. Hamilton matched him by making 3s on consecutive possessions and the Nuggets' lead ballooned to 82-62 with 9:40 left.

Chicago managed to pull to 94-83, but Robinson, who had 10 of his 11 points in the final period, responded by hitting a 12-foot bank shot to help quash the Bulls' late momentum (see full recap).

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”