John Klein: LeBron, Heat show they're still the ones to beat
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, February 15, 2013
2/15/13 at 7:26 AM
Related story: Thunder’s thorn: LeBron, Heat make it six straight against Thunder.
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Dominant Heat shows it's still the team to beat
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Miami Heat sent a clear and direct message to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night at the Chesapeake Arena.
The message was simple. The Heat, until proven different, is still the team to beat in the NBA.
Miami's LeBron James, despite Kevin Durant's remarkable ability to score, remains the greatest player on Earth.
In the final regular-season game between last year's NBA Finalists, the Heat again proved to be too much for the Thunder. James proved he is still the king of the court.
James put on a show, especially in the final two minutes of the first half, as the Heat ran away from the Thunder, 110-100.
James goes into the NBA All-Star break with seven straight games over 30 points.
His performance against the Thunder might have been his best. He had 39 points (14-of-24, 58.3 percent) with 12 rebounds. He hit four 3-pointers, including two dramatic long-distance shots just before halftime. He threw down a thunderous dunk in the final moments to put an exclamation point on the victory.
Durant started slow (2 of 10 in the first half), but he was fabulous in the second half. But it wasn't nearly enough to make this game as he scored 40.
"LeBron and Kevin are going to have a lot of battles like this," said OKC coach Scott Brooks. "Both had terrific performances."
The 10-point deficit was about as close as it got over the last three quarters. The Heat owned this game. The Thunder trailed by 15 after one quarter and never threatened to make it a close game the rest of the way.
"They jumped on us right from the start," said Brooks. "We were playing uphill the entire game."
Yes, the Heat now officially owns Oklahoma City. This was a thorough beatdown.
Miami has now won six straight over the Thunder dating back to Game 2 of last year's NBA Finals in Oklahoma City.
"They are a terrific team," said Brooks. "They have got a lot of talented players."
Since then, the Thunder has been beaten in a variety of ways by Miami.
But none was more impressive or dominating than the latest.
Durant and the Thunder understood the importance.
It was just a regular season game, but considering recent history with the Miami Heat, the Thunder knew this game had a little something extra riding on it.
James, who has been on fire of late, put on a show just before halftime and was unstoppable at times.
It was the second and final game between these two teams this season.
If they meet again, it will be in an NBA Finals rematch.
"If we do see them again this season, that would be great," said Brooks.
That's why this game meant more. The Thunder had lost five straight to the Heat. OKC desperately wanted a home victory for a little edge against the Heat and an uplifting victory to go into the NBA All-Star break.
"We didn't play very well in this game, but we've had a very good first half of the season (39-14 going into the break)," said Brooks.
Instead, the misery against Miami continues. The Heat rallied to win in OKC in Game 2 of last year's NBA Finals then went on to complete the NBA championship run with three straight victories in Miami.
Then, on Christmas Day, the Heat dominated for much of a 103-97 victory in Miami in the only previous match between the two teams this season.
After this, there are no more duals between what many people consider the two best teams in the NBA before the playoffs.
This was the last time in the regular season that you get to see the league's best overall player, James, and the NBA's best scorer, Durant.
Coming into the game, James had shot 71.7 percent (66-of-92) in his previous six games. It has been compared to some historic scoring streaks in NBA history.
He didn't come out on fire but was deadly just before halftime. James hit four shots in the final two minutes of the first half, including two very long and well-guarded 3-pointers.
That burst just before halftime staked the Heat to a 63-46 halftime lead.
"We gave up 63 points in the first half," said Brooks. "We didn't make many stops."
Miami stretched out to an 88-69 lead after three quarters.
"Very seldom do we never lead in a game, especially at home," said Brooks. "Give them credit."
The Thunder did cut into the lead and tried to make it interesting down the stretch. However, Miami had enough offense to hold on.
"We are not as bad as we played," said Brooks.
Miami's LeBron James dunks during the Heat's game against the OkC Thunder, at Chesapeake Energy Center. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World