Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/5/12
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MIAMI Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Miami Heat a gift Wednesday night: They reminded the most talented team in the NBA how to become its best. Through unrestrained, unifying anger. The Thunder had control of the game and the Heat's often fragile psyche through much of the first half. Then, in acts of stupidity that mirrored much of Westbrook's play the rest of the night, both he and Perkins committed serious fouls that changed everything and led to Miami's 98-93 win. First, Perkins whacked Dwyane Wade on the head, earning a technical foul and instilling in the Heat some of that anger. Then, a short time later, LeBron was on a breakaway when he went up for a dunk and Westbrook, trailing, fouled him hard enough to send LeBron flying. A riotous crowd suddenly held its breath, then, after processing what happened, went apoplectic. So did the Heat, who turned a lingering deficit into a 16-8 run to close the half and claim a one-point lead that reset the tempo and tone of the game. Westbrook earned a flagrant foul for the undercut, LeBron after the game called it a "dangerous" play and the Heat now fully enraged were off and charging in a way they hadn't been in weeks. "We needed that push," LeBron said later. "They made a run and went up as far as 11. They got up on us and we needed to make a run and make a push and we were able to do that." Added Wade: "Yeah it did (kick start us). And it got our fans riled up and got the crowd into it. It just put us into that mode. Obviously a lot of people think for some reason that we're soft." The Heat, from then on, played liked champions even as the Thunder gave them everything they could handle. LeBron was a virtuoso of basketball excellence, pouring in 34 points, dishing 10 assists, snatching seven rebounds, stealing the ball four times and pulsing with a sense of righteous indignation that can be a tipping point not just for this game but for the season going forward. The Miami Heat are best when angry. They did not like being hated last year, they still do not like being doubted this year, and it is when they have come to the court with a sense of anger having thrown off the burden of being liked and liking others, of being respected and respecting others that they have been at their best. They were not angry early on, coasting through the opening half as they coasted through March. Then Perkins took his swipe, Westbrook committed the kind of foul that can lead to serious injury and the Heat were transformed. (Westbrook also committed a 9-of-26-shooting, two-assist night that was painful and wrong in a whole other way). Afterward, Spoelstra could barely hide his disgust, talking about "truths" only his team could see and sniping for indiscernible reasons about others tagging his group with labels he said he didn't care about. Whatever, it was weird, and he was clearly pissed off. Good. Now start directing that, night in and night out, at your opponents. In the locker room, Chris Bosh, having scored just 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting, had a fat lip hopefully fat enough to inspire him to start playing like the NBA star he is. Wade was icy and direct in talking about how people think his team is soft, and LeBron instantly agreed. "We've heard it before," he said. "I guess if you had to write a book on us they'd say, Let's try to beat them up, they'll back down" and things like that. We've got a lot of warriors in here, a lot of guys who have been in a lot of fights. Whatever type of game guys want to play, we can play." I'd agree but suggest a slight tweak: The Heat need to dictate their own type of play, and it needs to be one with some anger and some rage. It unified them last year, it unified them Wednesday night and it can do the same going forward. Miami has been a team adrift lately, one wandering off course. And on Wednesday, Kevin Durant was pretty darn good. He had 30 points, he went toe-to-toe with LeBron, and he kept his team in the game late until LeBron's excellence and his team's need for payback became too much to handle. LeBron was already too fired up. He was glue on KD in the second half, he was a big reason Durant had nine turnovers, and he shouted loud and wide with his play that his name still belongs atop all MVP lists. This is a fine line for Miami, this idea of embracing the rage and getting past trying to be nice guys, because there is a difference between playing angry and playing scared between carrying a giant chip on one's shoulder and simply carrying a giant burden. Not every team will do the Heat the favor the Thunder did and provoke this part of them a provocation, it's worth noting, that stole from the Thunder a real chance to bury the Heat mentally. That might have led to Miami playing scared in the weeks ahead, because they are a team of streaks, both good and bad. Instead they tapped into anger rather than fear or pity or insouciance. It made them play like the team they should be. To know how to walk that line properly, LeBron need look no further than Dwyane Wade. Wade's swagger has always been backed by a simmering anger hard stares at opponents, mocking looks to fans (or impersonations of, say, Dirk Nowitzki), a cold-blooded talent's penchant for always seeming angry as he succeeded. It's sometimes hard to see through the charm and talent, but Wade plays angrily. That's the ticket for the Heat, the one the Thunder helped them punch Wednesday night. Use that trek the rest of this NBA season with that ferocious focus and rage and Miami can be everything it's supposed to be. You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at foxsportsreiter@gmail.com.
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