Wednesday night's showdown on South Beach just got a lot more interesting.
The second and final meeting this season between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat has all the makings of a big game. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is now healthy and in his rightful place as the starter. And the Heat has won three straight after losing five in a row.
With 15 games remaining following the nationally televised game on ESPN, there is no better game to use as a measuring stick for the Thunder to judge where it is as it gears up for the season's home stretch.
“We definitely got to try to make a statement to see where we're at against one of the top teams in basketball,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant. “It should be fun. We're looking forward to it. We just got to relish the opportunity to get better.”
The Heat won the first meeting, 108-103, in Oklahoma City, mainly because the Thunder couldn't corral a defensive rebound in the final minutes. Heat guard Eddie House hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 22.2 seconds remaining and later added a pair of free throws to clinch the victory, marking one of the few times Miami has executed well down the stretch in a close game this season.
The Heat has the league's top scoring duo in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, whose combined average is 51.7 points. The Thunder possesses the third-ranked scoring duo in Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combine to average 50.7 points. James and Wade combined for 55 points in the first meeting, while Durant and Westbrook combined to score 54 points.
“It's going to be tough, especially in their building. But we're looking forward to that challenge,” Durant said. “They've been playing well lately after that little stretch they had.”
BEATING THE BAD TEAMS
In its past six games against sub-.500 teams, the Thunder has won by an average of 22.3 points. The closest victory was a 10-point win against Detroit last Friday. The Thunder is now 20-3 against sub-.500 teams. Only San Antonio (26-1) and Miami (28-2) have a better mark against bad teams.
“It means we're focused,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “We're taking care of business. There's been stretches this year where we've kind of played to the score. We've gotten up 10 and relaxed and let a team back in it. We've been able to avoid that. I think we're a little more focused and our guys are a little bit sharper coming into these games.”
After making his debut with the Thunder on Monday at Washington, Perkins admitted he had a few butterflies even though he's played on a championship team.