Miami Heat Make Statement as Prohibitive Title Favorites with Win over OKC
Forget the regular season record. Forget the blowout losses to the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, the shocking upsets at the hands of the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons and the close shaves against the Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic.
That much was clear while watching the Heat romp to a 110-100 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday night. The win was Miami's season-best seventh in a row overall and sixth straight over OKC dating back to the 2012 NBA Finals.
And it was perhaps the Heat's finest performance of the season. They moved the ball beautifully to create wide-open shots for one another, even if they didn't always knock those looks down.
They competed on the boards, outrebounding the bigger Thunder by a count of 46-35, boosted by a 13-5 edge on the offensive boards. They stifled OKC's individualistic offense on the way to building a lead that grew as big as 21 points in the fourth quarter and 23 points overall.
This despite outstanding performances by Kevin Durant (40 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks, one steal) and Russell Westbrook (26 points, 10 assists, five rebounds), an unending series of questionable calls from Danny Crawford and his crew and an uneven showing from Dwyane Wade (13 points, 38.4 percent shooting, four turnovers) before fouling out in the fourth.
So how did the Heat turn a highly-anticipated Finals rematch into a no-contest?
The obvious (and largely correct) answer is LeBron James. The three-time MVP bolstered his case for a fourth with a season-high-tying 39 points to go along with 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
But LeBron shot a "measly" 58.3 percent from the field, so there goes that epic streak of his.
Of course, the Heat don't need James to hit 60-plus percent of his shots every time he takes the floor for them to win. He does so many other things on the floor so well—handling the ball up top, driving and kicking, defending all five positions, crashing the boards and so on—that he needn't be Wilt Chamberlain with a jump shot on a nightly basis.
It also helps that LeBron shares the floor with such excellent teammates. Despite his shooting struggles, Wade managed to affect the game with his playmaking on offense (eight assists) and defense (three steals, one block).
Chris Bosh continued a torrid shooting streak of his own—10-of-14 for 20 points—while stuffing the stat sheet with 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks.
Ray Allen shook off a poor shooting night from the field to hit 6-of-6 from the free-throw line on the way to a 13-point performance.
But as impressive as Miami's collection of individual talent may be, its success, be it in the regular season or later during the playoffs, has been, is and will be predicated on a collective ability to execute under any and all circumstances.
The Heat appeared unfazed by the physicality and high-flying athleticism on display by OKC, nor were they intimidated in the least by a raucous crowd at the 'Peake.
Rather, the Heat went about spreading the floor and running their stuff as calmly and crisply as they would've had they been entertaining a full house at American Airlines Arena in Miami.
They never got too high, even as their lead over OKC ballooned well into double digits, and they didn't panic when OKC narrowed the gap in the fourth quarter.
Miami's consistent composure came in stark contrast to OKC's overly emotional approach to the evening. The Thunder tallied three technical fouls, including one for Kevin Durant to put him in a tie with DeMarcus Cousins for the league lead.
The Thunder were fiery and feisty throughout, but their angry enthusiasm certainly didn't equate to running their offense well, creating easy shots or slowing down Miami in any coordinated manner.
And remember, the Thunder are supposed to be the best bet to nip the Heat's potential dynasty in the bud. They're the ones with the requisite talent, athleticism, experience and versatility—on top of their tremendous youth—to go toe-to-toe with Miami's small ball.
Which team is the best bet to win the 2013 NBA title?
The San Antonio Spurs execute like nobody else and come equipped with a wealth of championship-caliber maturity. But can they really hope to win the Western Conference (much less beat the Heat) simply by running their system? And will Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili stay healthy long enough to see it all through?
On the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Clippers can create havoc and get out on the break thereabouts. But can they run their stuff well enough to score points when the pace slows and the games tighten in the playoffs?
Surely L.A.'s recent 111-89 loss in Miami was proof enough that the Clips can't hope to outrun or outgun the Heat.
And what of the East? The Heat, at 36-14, already own a 3.5-game lead on the top seed.
Can the Knicks consider themselves a threat in the postseason if their defense falters, the three-pointers stop dropping and their oldest-ever roster continues to crumble? What of the Pacers, who simply don't score easily or well enough to complement their league-best defense?
The point being, if OKC of all teams can't compete with the Heat, then what hope is there for the rest of the NBA to do so?
Miami may not bring their all every night, but when the Heat are interested and engaged, their ceiling is unmatched. Like any team, Miami's bound to lay its fair share of eggs during a grueling 82-game schedule.
You can bet, though, that Miami will be ready to go full-bore come playoff time. They went there and did that in 2012. They've been through the gauntlet together and have emerged champions.
And, yeah, they have LeBron, Wade and Bosh on their side, which counts for plenty.
As it did on Thursday night, and as it will when the monotony of February and March gives way to the intensity and focus of April, May and June.
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