OKLAHOMA CITY (NBA.com exclusive) -- Last season the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't win their third game until a week before Christmas. This season it took only six games.
Kevin Durant scored 28 points and the Thunder played a smothering defense that held Orlando 35 points below the Magic's season average as Oklahoma City cruised to a surprisingly easy 102-74 win.
"That's about as good as we can play," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "I understand they were short-handed but we did a good job keeping them away from a big 3-point shooting night."
Orlando played without forwards Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson who are both nursing sprained ankles. Guard Rashard Lewis is suspended for the first ten games of the season. Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy refused to allow any excuses.
"We have no defensive toughness and right now we aren't a very good team," he said. "The Thunder are much better than us right now. They would have beat us if we had everybody. They would have beat us here or in our place. We're just not as tough as they are right now."
The Thunder (3-3) held Orlando (5-2) to 36.8 percent shooting and limited the Magic to a modest 18.8 percent on 3-pointers. Orlando had come in shooting 47.6 percent including 41.1 percent on 3-pointers. That added up to almost 109 points a game.
"That was our game plan, play tough defense," Durant said. "When Howard got the ball we wanted him to see two or three guys around him and we did that."
Howard still managed 20 points to lead the Magic but he was continually frustrated at having to come out away from the basket to guard Oklahoma City center Nenad Krstic. Krstic was 7-for-12 and scored 14 points.
"Krstic spread the floor and brought Howard out from the rim," said Thunder forward Jeff Green."That was big for us."
Howard dominated the Thunder last season when he averaged 25.5 points, 21 rebounds and 8 blocks in the two games. On Sunday, Howard was held to just seven rebounds and didn't record a block.
"All our guys made (Howard's) night difficult," said Brooks. "Nenad, Nick (Collison) and Etan (Thomas) did a good job of putting a body on him all night."
Russell Westbrook had another double-double for Oklahoma City with 17 points and 10 assists. Thabo Sefalosha also recorded a double-double for the Thunder with 13 points and 10 rebounds and was 3-for-3 on 3 pointers.
Brooks has preached defense and more of a motion-oriented offense this season. The improvements showed Sunday night.
"They play very hard defensively," Van Gundy told reporters. "They play with great intensity and that is the way I would like to see our team play."
The Thunder, which had a season-high 27 assists, hit 57.1 percent and 56.3 on 3-pointers.
"That's great basketball," Brooks said. "We have to move the ball; we have to continue to work on that."
Aside from Howard, Orlando had only two other players in double figures as Mickael Pietrus scored 15 points and Jameer Nelson added 10.
Reminded in the postgame news conference that it took his team until December 19th to win its third game last season Brooks said, "I thought about that 3-29 all summer."
A 3-3 starts looks a lot better now for a team that never had a whiff of .500 in the 2008-09 season.