Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook gestures after hitting a...

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook gestures after hitting a 3-point shot to end the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Oklahoma City. (Dec. 7, 2012) Credit: AP

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin 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 Los Angeles Lakers 114-108 Friday night.

NBA scoring leader Kobe 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.

What could have been an early showdown between championship contenders instead had the Lakers limping in with a losing record and three key players out because of injuries.

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.

World Peace grabbed Ibaka's back and the two barked at each other face to face and chest to chest, with Ibaka then grasping the back of World Peace's jersey. Ibaka rared back with his right fist clenched, but the two were separated before it escalated any further.

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.

That it even ended up so close was a surprise with the Lakers already struggling and Westbrook putting together the best first half of his career.

Westbrook was in attack mode right from the start with Los Angeles missing top point guards Steve Nash (left leg) and Steve Blake (abdominal surgery), plus All-Star forward Pau Gasol for the third straight game with tendinitis in both knees.

Westbrook buried 3-pointers on two of Oklahoma City's first three possessions on his way to making a career-best five from behind the arc -- all in the first half.

He had never scored more than 20 in the first half before amassing 27 by halftime in this one. When Westbrook missed his first eight shots of the second half, Durant helped pick up the slack. He made a jumper, a 3-pointer and a runner for a personal 7-0 run that increased Oklahoma City's edge to 85-66 with 3:34 left in the third quarter.

That 19-point cushion was restored with 7:42 left in the game when Nick Collison took a charge at one end and then dunked at the other to make it 100-81.

The Lakers, eliminated by Oklahoma City in five games in last season's Western Conference semifinals, wouldn't go away quietly.

The Thunder charged ahead in the second quarter, just as they'd done in each of their previous five games -- outscoring opponents by 55 points in the period during that span. Westbrook drove for a three-point play and had assists on Durant's 3-pointer and alley-oop dunk during a 10-0 burst that stretched the lead to 52-40 with 4:31 left before halftime.

Bryant hit a quick 3-pointer and a pair of free throws, then set up Howard's dunk to stop Oklahoma City's charge. But Westbrook wasn't done.

The All-Star point guard connected on back-to-back jumpers from the right elbow and assisted on Ibaka's jumper before making a 3 from the left wing. To top it all off, he made his fifth 3-pointer while getting fouled by Duhon -- then still went ahead with his usual celebration move of acting as though he were holstering his hands even while lying on his back.

His free throw to complete the four-point play made it 67-51. Oklahoma City outscored L.A. 26-8 in fast-break points on its way to a 14-point halftime lead.

NOTES: Howard spent time near the end of the Lakers' shootaround practicing his free throws, with Nash -- a 90-percent foul shooter in his career -- offering suggestions and even mimicking a follow through. At one point, Howard made eight in a row.

"My mind cannot get clouded with everybody telling me how to shoot a free throw," said Howard, who's shooting 47 percent at the line this season. "I just have to go up there and shoot it my way and not get caught up with what everybody else is saying because that's when I miss." ... The Lakers went to see the movie "Lincoln" on their day off Thursday. Bryant joked that he didn't know what was taught in school anymore and some of his teammates might not have known Abraham Lincoln's story. "I'm curious to see if you took a poll who knew," Bryant said. "Maybe it came as a great shock to them that Lincoln died at the end of the film." ... Bryant didn't argue when told that Durant called him an "old fart." He said he calls Durant "Similac," a brand of baby formula. ... Oklahoma City recalled Daniel Orton, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III from Tulsa of the NBA development league. Jones was on crutches with a sprained left ankle the team referred to as mild.

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