MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The Miami Heat entered Thursday night’s contest as the hottest team in the NBA, led by the front-runner for the Most Valuable Player award, LeBron James.
By the time the final horn sounded, the Heat had finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder, 110-100 on national television.
James finished the game with 39 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists to put an exclamation mark on the first-half of the season. He came within a minute of continuing his record-setting streak of 30+ point games and shooting better than 60 percent from the field.
LeBron missed a shot from a couple of steps beyond the 3-point-line as the shot clock ran down with just over a minute left in the game. LeBron finished the game 14 of 24 from the field, or 58 percent.
All that mattered to LeBron though was the Heat extended their winning streak to seven straight games and the Heat beat the Thunder for the sixth time in a row dating back to the 2012 NBA Finals.
“Winning is hard to come by in professional sports. That’s what it’s about,” James said. “Sixty percent doesn’t matter. Winning is all that matters.”
Chris Bosh chipped in 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Heat, who won the last four games of last season’s Finals after losing Game 1 in Oklahoma City and continued their dominance in the series after winning on their home court on Christmas Day.
“I thought we imposed our will, playing our style of basketball,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 13 points and eight assists before fouling out with 3:29 to play.
“But have their number? No, we’re not feeling that way. We’ve just won two games against them. That’s it.”
Kevin Durant had 40 points and eight rebounds, but missed his first seven shots as Oklahoma City fell hopelessly behind. After the slow start, he wound up making half of his 24 shots — going 8 for 10 in the fourth quarter to get Oklahoma City within 108-100 after trailing by as much as 23.
It wasn’t enough to measure up against James, who beat him in last year’s MVP race and then the Finals before the two won a gold medal together at the London Olympics.
“It’s fun. I take on the challenge every time we’re playing,” Durant said. “He had a great game. He was making some tough shots, man — one-leggers, fadeaways in corners, 3s. So, you’ve got to tip your hat to that.
“I just wanted to keep putting pressure on him. I missed a few and then I started to hit in the fourth. I just tried to will my team back in the game, but it didn’t work.”
Russell Westbrook had 26 points and 10 assists, with six turnovers, for the Thunder. He had 20 points in the first half to keep Oklahoma City from getting run out of its own gym.
Despite playing without injured starting forward Udonis Haslem (leg) and then losing two starters to foul trouble in the first 6 minutes, the Heat took control by scoring 11 straight points midway through the first period and went up 28-13 when Ray Allen made the free throw after Durant drew his 11th technical foul of the season.
“That was the game, that first quarter,” said Durant, who surmised that the Thunder came out too nervous or too excited. “We just kept fighting and we kept fighting, battling uphill. That’s tough to do against a championship-caliber team.”
Miami never trailed, held Oklahoma City to just two baskets over a 12-minute stretch and eventually widened its lead to as much as 79-56 when James put back a missed jumper by Bosh with 5:07 left in the third quarter. That matched the largest deficit of the season for the Thunder, who also were down 23 in a home loss against Brooklyn last month.
Oklahoma City fell to 23-4 at home and suffered back-to-back losses for only the second time all season — with the Heat responsible for the second loss on both occasions. The defeat also dropped the Thunder (39-14) to even in the loss column with Miami (36-14) as the two potentially jockey for home-court advantage if there’s a Finals rematch.
San Antonio has the best record in the league, and is the only team ahead of Miami and Oklahoma City.
“We always have to be sharp. We can’t ever let our guard down,” James said. “We can’t ever come in lackadaisical. We have to come in with a great mindset.”
James finished the first half with a flurry, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and a pair of jumpers from the left wing on four straight possessions. He said it all started with a fan who taunted him.
“He said, ‘Shoot it. You can’t shoot.’ So, I said, ‘OK,’ and I shot it. I made it and then I made another one and then I made another one and then I made another one, and he stopped talking to me,” James said.
The first 3 came when James was left wide open, then the Thunder tried to send Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and finally Kendrick Perkins at him — all to no avail. Westbrook spent most of the second half guarding James.
The only frustration for James came because of the officials, who whistled him for two fouls within two-tenths of a second — and within the final 6 seconds of the half. James tried to restrain himself but eventually let his emotions boil over enough that Dan Crawford hit him with a technical foul, too.
Still, Miami bumped its lead to 63-46 when Bosh got open for a layup at the halftime buzzer off of a half-court inbound bounce pass from Shane Battier.
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