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No one should assume Heat is the team to beat

Thunder has emphatically proven, in front of a national-television audience, just how premature it would be for anyone to hand Miami the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 26, 2012

It was the biggest test the Thunder has faced all season.

Many dubbed Sunday's showdown with the Miami Heat a potential NBA Finals preview.

By the time it was over, the Thunder had emphatically proven, in front of a national-television audience, just how premature it would be for anyone to hand the Heat the Larry O'Brien Trophy after what is widely expected to be the matchup we see playing out in June for all the marbles.

Behind some infuriatingly suffocating defense and incredibly smart offense, the Thunder cruised to a 103-87 win inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. The regular season rematch, which will be played inside American Airlines Arena, is now just nine days away.

But 48 minutes couldn't have been more telling Sunday. Here are five things we learned about what a Thunder-Heat series could look like.

*Kevin Durant is capable of dominating more than LeBron James.

Once upon a time the Thunder had to hide Durant on a much less capable offensive player rather than throwing him in the deep end against James. Not anymore. The two stars now go head-to-head for the majority of the night each time they step on the floor, and Sunday showed us that, surprisingly, it's Durant's defense that gives him the edge in the individual matchup. Durant defended everyone from James to Dwyane Wade to Shane Battier, all with enormous success. Of James' eight made field goals, only one came off an isolation play against Durant — and it was a tough fadeaway jumper five minutes into the game. And for all of James' physical gifts, he struggled mightily to muster anything inside against the much leaner Durant, be it out of post-ups or drives. Oh yeah, Durant also showed once more that James has no answer for him at the other end, finishing with a game-high 28 points with nine rebounds and eight assists.

*OKC's big men will have to be accounted for.

Serge Ibaka scored 19 points with 10 rebounds. Kendrick Perkins had a season-high 16 points with six rebounds. The Heat couldn't stop either one of them. And it all stemmed from the heavy attention Miami was forced to pay to Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder's perimeter players picked the Heat apart with drive-and-kicks and easy dump-offs to their bigs, who were happy to finish with either wide open baseline jumpers or forceful dunks. It's an effective means of offense for the Thunder that doesn't figure to change given how the Heat has to send multiple defenders at Durant and Westbrook. And for all the national rhetoric claiming OKC can't score easy buckets, the Thunder just demonstrated how easy paint points can come against the team that is supposedly standing in its way of a title.

*Shane Battier is a bad matchup for James Harden.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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