- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - As Russell Westbrook sat out for two months while recovering from knee surgery last season, he watched Kevin Durant emerge as a leader.

Westbrook said two things stood out most about the way Durant picked up the slack for him - the stream of victories and the way Durant showed confidence in his teammates who also had to take on more significant roles.

In Oklahoma City’s first preseason action since learning that Durant would be out with a Jones fracture in his right foot, Westbrook showed that same kind of confidence in his teammates and got similar results. He had 14 points and 12 assists in three quarters as the Thunder beat the Grizzlies 117-107 on Tuesday night.

The game was an important step for the Thunder, and for Westbrook, as they prepare to start the season without the reigning MVP. Typical recovery time for Durant’s injury is six to eight weeks.

“We’ve got to find a way to get rhythm, find sets,” Westbrook said. “I know for myself, I’ve got to find a way to see how I can make an impact on the game and still be effective and win games.”

Durant walked around during timeouts and often smiled while talking to teammates throughout the game. Westbrook talked to his teammates, too. During a break in the action in the second quarter, he told center Steven Adams, “Every time, Steve-O.” Adams scored 14 of his 22 points in that quarter in just eight minutes.

Adams averaged just 3.3 points per game last season primarily as Kendrick Perkins’ backup, but he has made 24 of 28 field goals this preseason and leads the team with 18.7 points per game.

“Once I drive, the big has to help,” Westbrook said. “He (Adams) just has to be ready. He has big hands, man, he has huge hands. I think it’s an advantage. Great touch.”

Other Thunder players who sat out with injuries include Nick Collison (ankle sprain), Serge Ibaka (ankle sprain), Reggie Jackson (wrist contusion), Grant Jerrett (ankle), Mitch McGary (foot fracture) and Perkins (quad strain). Westbrook was the only regular from last season’s starting lineup who played.

The injuries gave several players a chance to shine. Jeremy Lamb led the way with 23 points. Anthony Morrow, a free-agent pickup who last played for the New Orleans Pelicans, added 19 points.

Oklahoma City trailed 32-23 at the end of the first quarter, but the Thunder scored 37 points in the second to take a 60-59 lead at the break. Oklahoma City extended its lead to 92-83 at the end of the third quarter.

Key players Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince didn’t play for the Grizzlies. Still, the Thunder were glad to get a chance to start figuring out how to be competitive without Durant and the other injured players.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s a challenge that we’re all going to step up and learn from and get better from it. When our team is whole, we want to be a better team. That’s our mindset every day.”


Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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