Durant had a procedure on Sunday to replace a screw that was causing soreness in his surgically repaired right foot. The reigning NBA MVP is expected to return this season.
Westbrook, playing with two new starters acquired at the trade deadline, responded with an impressive performance. He had 10 assists in the second quarter and 12 in the first half.
He said the team needs Durant, and he wants the Thunder to be in a good position when he returns.
"Kevin wants us to win, and we're going out and taking care of business," Westbrook said.
Oklahoma City has won five of the past six games it has played without Durant. In those games, Westbrook is averaging 30.3 points, 9.3 assists and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 48 percent.
After Sunday's game, coach Scott Brooks repeated a sentiment he shared way back on the Thunder's preseason media day -- that he believes Westbrook is the best point guard in the league.
"Russell's at a high level, but he's been playing this way for a long time, for a lot of years, and every year, like all the special players do, they come back a little bit better," Brooks said.
Westbrook rested late in the first quarter, and then put on a dazzling passing display. He returned with 8:40 left in the first half and his team leading 36-24. He recorded 10 assists over the last part of the half, and Oklahoma City's lead ballooned to 67-42 at the break.
According to STATS, Westbrook was the first player since Detroit's Brandon Jennings on Jan. 11, 2014, to register 10 or more assists in a single quarter.
Westbrook added five more assists in the third. He left for good with three minutes remaining in the period and the Thunder ahead 91-62. He also had eight rebounds in just 28 minutes.
Westbrook has meshed with Kanter early on. Five of his assists went to the 6-foot-11 center acquired from the Utah Jazz on Thursday.
"Just trying to do a better job of leading," Westbrook said. "My job is to integrate the new guys and lead them in the direction where we want to go."
"Once again, it's the story of not playing a complete game," Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "We played them even in the second half, but we couldn't overcome the deficit we put ourselves in in the first half. That's the difference in the game."
Nuggets: Denver shot 28 percent in the first quarter to fall behind 36-18. ... Denver had three assists and five turnovers in the first 12 minutes. ... Denver was outrebounded 60-42.
Thunder: Kanter and F Kyle Singler started for the second straight game after being acquired at the trade deadline. They combined for 12 of Oklahoma City's 36 points in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City shot 60 percent in the first 12 minutes. ... Westbrook's streak of consecutive made free throws ended at 45.
Westbrook's 12 assists in the first half were the most he's ever had in a half. He went without a turnover before the break, and finished with two.
Nuggets: Host Nets on Monday.
Thunder: Host Pacers on Tuesday.
The Jump crew examines Steph Curry's game and wonder if the MVP is hiding something or if his game is hurt.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports Joakim Noah has been telling teammates he is ready to leave Chicago, while a league source stressed to ESPN that a "positive dialogue" between the parties continues.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Steph Curry, who sprained his MCL in the first round, might not be "where he needs to be," but he is not injured.