Thunder-Heat Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 25, 2012
While fans across the country are looking forward to this rematch of last season's NBA Finals, LeBron James and Kevin Durant downplayed its significance. Both are simply focused on leading their respective team to victory. There figures to be plenty of fireworks Christmas Day as the defending champion Miami Heat and NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder square off in South Beach. After dropping Game 1 of the Finals, Miami (18-6) took four straight from Oklahoma City (21-5) to win the second title in franchise history. Though many are eager to see how the Heat and Thunder stack up this season, neither team is buying into the hype. "We wanna play well and that's all that matters," James said. "We don't look at it (like) 'let's see where we're at' or how it's gonna define our season. We wanna play well, we wanna win, and that's our main objective." Durant, who's averaged 31.3 points in leading the Thunder to four wins in six regular-season matchups in this series, shared the same sentiment. "It's so long ago," he said of facing Miami in the finals. "Of course, I learned a lot since then. But to be honest, it's just another game on the schedule. I gotta come and show up for my team, be a leader on the court for my team, that's all I'm worried about." Third in the league with 27.9 points per game, Durant has had to take on even more of a leadership role after the team shipped James Harden to Houston just days before the season started. Durant is posting career highs in almost every statistical category, including field-goal percentage (52.1), rebounds (8.4) and assists (4.2). Russell Westbrook has also stepped up with 8.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game - both career bests. "They're two of the best players in the league. You don't even have to put them at their respective positions, they're just two of the best," James said. The Thunder put together 12 straight wins before a 99-93 loss at Minnesota on Thursday. Durant had 33 points while Westbrook scored 30 to go along with 11 rebounds and nine assists for Oklahoma City, which was handed its first loss since Nov. 23 at Boston. "It's not the end of the world... We're 21-5 and we've just got to go back and work," Durant said. "That's what happens in this league. Any given night you can lose. It's a great lesson for us... We wanna win this next one." Miami has picked up the pace since falling 97-95 to Golden State on Dec. 12, winning four straight while holding opponents to an average of 87.0 points - 10.4 less than its season mark. James had 30 points, nine boards and seven assists and Dwyane Wade scored 21 in Saturday's 105-89 victory over Utah. James, who's scored at least 20 in every game this season to match the longest run to start a year since Karl Malone in 1989-90, has also gone six straight games without committing a personal foul. "He's been activating our defense," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And when you have his type of athletic, God-given ability and you add that to his mind and then the preparation, he can be one or two steps ahead of the play - which allows him to be a playmaker defensively." The Heat are 6-2 all-time on Christmas Day. Oklahoma City is 2-11 in such games - including an 0-9 road record. "The last time we weren't playing on Christmas, we were a bad basketball team," Spoelstra said. "So the holiday games are fun, but at the same time, we understand who's coming to town. We think we've been tightening up our game a little bit, (those) guys are playing at an elite level, so we're looking forward to the matchup." Miami is expected to get Chris Bosh back after he sat out Saturday with a cold. Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin could also return from a right thigh contusion.
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