LOS ANGELES — Paul George scored 27 points and Russell Westbrook bagged a triple-double as the Oklahoma City Thunder overturned an 18-point deficit to clinch a playoff berth with a 115-93 victory over the Miami Heat on Monday.
Westbrook finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in a dynamic performance which assured the Thunder of a postseason berth and kept them in the hunt for homecourt advantage in the first round.
The Thunder improved to 47-34 with the win, leaving them level on wins in the Western Conference standings with fourth-placed Utah, who have played a game fewer.
George and Westbrook were backed by Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 11 points, while Jerami Grant contributed 17 off the bench as the Thunder overcame a determined Miami side.
Josh Richardson led the scoring for the Heat with 18 points while Hassan Whiteside had 16. The defeat saw Miami slide back to seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of Washington.
George said the Thunder would now aim to finish with a win in front of their home fans on Wednesday, when they host the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It feels great. We’ve got one more to go, we’re heading in the right direction,” George said.
“It’s what we wanted. We wanted to come off the road trip 2 & 0 and we did that. We’ve got one more to close it up at home and get ready for these playoffs.”
Elsewhere Monday, Kevin Love and LeBron James combined for 54 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers kept alive their hopes of snagging third place in the Eastern Conference with a 123-109 win over the New York Knicks.
FINALS IN SIGHT?
With just one regular season game remaining, the Cavaliers will likely need to defeat New York again on Wednesday if they are to have any chance of sneaking past the in-form Philadelphia 76ers for the third seeding.
The Sixers will be assured of third if they win their two remaining games against Atlanta and Milwaukee.
However, Cleveland’s win on Monday handed them the tie-breaker over the Sixers, meaning that should Philadelphia slip up against the Hawks on Tuesday or the Bucks on Wednesday, the Cavs will finish third.
Whichever team finishes third has a potentially easier route to the Eastern Conference finals, with a series against the injury-hit Boston Celtics likely in the second round.
Love, who led the Cavs scoring with 28 points and grabbed five rebounds, said the team was finding form at the right time.
“Heading into the playoffs we always want to get better, and we feel like we’ve done that,” Love said after Monday’s road win at Madison Square Garden.
“It just felt like we moved the ball a little bit better. For 48 minutes it felt like we did a good job of that. A lot of contributions, a lot of guys playing well, it’s always fun to play Madison Square Garden.”
James finished with 26 points and contributed 11 assists in a comfortable win for the 2016 NBA champions. — AFP