Heat remains thorn in Thunder's side
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Friday, February 15, 2013
2/15/13 at 7:01 AM
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Related story: John Klein: Dominant Heat shows it’s still the team to beat.
OKLAHOMA CITY - Because LeBron James' hot streak coincided with Michael Jordan's 50th birthday, the debate has bubbled for days.
Is James now on the Jordan level of superstardom?
While it seems premature to rate a one-championship guy (James) against a six-championship legend (Jordan), James was undeniably Jordan-esque as the Miami Heat rolled to a 23-point lead and wound up with 110-100 victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
James entered as the only player in NBA history to have scored at least 30 points while shooting at least 60 percent from the field in six consecutive games. That streak has ended - barely - but the 28-year-old James was at the height of his powers, staggering OKC with 39 points on 14-of-24 shooting from the field. His percentage was .583.
"We didn't just want to come in here and not play well," James said. "We came in with a high level."
Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "(The Thunder) is an elite-level team. They really are. Part of it just might have been that we just caught them on an off night."
While James' streak ended at six, another streak has been extended to six.
Since defeating Miami in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder has been dealt six consecutive losses by the Heat. There were four straight setbacks in the Finals, there was a 103-97 defeat in Miami on Christmas Day and there was Thursday's Valentine's Day failure in OKC.
"It's frustration, definitely," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said.
If not for a late misfire on a deep 3-pointer, James would have sustained his 30 point-60 percent streak.
"He had a great game," Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant said of James. "He made some tough shots - one-leggers, fadeaways in the corners, threes. You've got to tip your hat to him.
"He got an MVP (during both the 2011-12 regular season and the NBA Finals). He got a championship. ... He's playing great."
Durant endured one of the more difficult big-game halves of his career. Smothered by Miami defenders - James, most usually - the Thunder All-Star totaled 14 first-half points but scored nine at the foul line. From the field, he was 2-of-10. Through three quarters, he was 4-of-14.
By game's end - in spite of a terrible first-half fall to the floor that could have resulted in a serious left-shoulder injury - Durant had 40 points on 12-of-24 shooting from the field and a 15-of-15 performance on free throws.
When asked about being upended and crashing hard on the floor, Durant replied, "When I jumped in the air, I got clipped. ... The last thing I was thinking about was coming out of the game."
Until he fouled out with 28 seconds left, Durant had played the entire game.
Westbrook had an All-Star stat line with 26 points and 10 assists, but none of the other Thunder players provided anything special. Kevin Martin contributed only nine points. Serge Ibaka was barely a factor, totaling six points on six shots.
Thunder players lost their composure during Tuesday's loss at Utah, and they were popped with three technical fouls on Thursday - one each for Durant, Reggie Jackson and Nick Collison.
Oklahoma City trailed 32-17 through one period and 63-46 at halftime. On three occasions during the third quarter, the Heat led by 23 points.
"We're not as bad as we played tonight," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "We were playing catch-up ball the whole game."
Supporting James were Chris Bosh, who finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds; and Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen, each of whom scored 13 points. While the Eastern Conference-leading Heat improved to 36-14, the Thunder enters the All-Star weekend with a mark of 39-14.
During the final 2:10 of Thursday's first half, James staggered the Thunder. He drilled a 3-point shot to give Miami a 54-36 cushion. During each of the next three Heat possessions, he abused three different OKC defenders.
James converted on a tough, 21-foot corner fade over Durant. James then swished another jumper over Thabo Sefolohsa. And with 24 seconds remaining, James was good on a shot from the left wing.
With 1.7 seconds left in the half, Miami inbounded the basketball from the sideline near the Heat bench. Teams typically don't get high-percentage shots from such a situation. Miami got the ultimate in high-percentage opportunities - a Bosh dunk that resulted in the Heat's 17-point halftime lead.
As the teams headed to their locker rooms, a courtside media member said, "Sometimes, you watch the Heat and wonder how they ever lose."
NBA: HEAT 110, THUNDER 100
THUNDER UP NEXT: At Houston • 7 p.m. Wednesday • TV: FSOK-27 • Radio: KYAL fm97.1
Original Print Headline: Thunder's thorn
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Miami's LeBron James (right) is defended by Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant during Thursday's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook is guarded by Miami's Mario Chalmers during Thursday's game in Oklahoma City. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World