The Minnesota Timberwolves were in town Friday night, with Kevin Love dueling the Thunder's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The teams combined for 289 points.
Sunday night, the star power goes up. Way up. The Miami Heat comes to Oklahoma City, maybe not for the last time this season.
But don't expect 289 points. Or even 232 regulation points.
The Heat wins with suffocating defense. The Thunder's only counter is the same, both in this regular-season showdown or in a potential NBA Finals.
Beat the Heat? You've got to beat Miami at its own game.
“They're a great defensive team,” said the newest Boomer, Derek Fisher. “It's going to be hard to score 114 points, 120 points, against a team like Miami.”
Worse yet for the Thunder, the Heat is uniquely built to combat OKC. You couldn't design a better defender than LeBron James to slow Durant. Strong, big, quick.
Plus Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers are excellent perimeter defenders. Most teams that play the Thunder just send the farm at Durant, Westbrook and James Harden and hope for the best. Miami matches up.
The Thunder has the NBA's most efficient offense — 1.062 points per possession, which is the most accurate method of rating offenses. Miami is No. 3, at 1.050.
But the Heat also ranks No. 3 in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to 0.964 points per possession. The Thunder is 12th, 0.998.
Scotty Brooks had a simple answer for how to beat the Heat: “By playing better defense.”
LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh are a scoring trio to match the Thunder musketeers.
“We know we have to do a better job guarding those three players,” Brooks said.
The Heat puts pressure on teams with its defense-to-offense transition. Miami gets quick baskets faster than any team maybe in NBA history. When fast players hustle and move the ball upcourt the way LeBron and Wade do, the scoring comes rapid-fire.
Truth is, for all the, uh, heat the Thunder's half-court offense receives, it's better than Miami's half-court offense. Crazy as it sounds, Durant, Westbrook and Harden are better one-on-one offensive players than Miami's trio.
But Miami's defense clamps down on even quality offenses and produces easy baskets at the other end. The Thunder must limit those easy baskets.
The Thunder loves to go all greyhound. Run up and down the court and get foes into a track meet. But you can't do that against Miami.
The Thunder needs to turn this game — or a potential series with Miami — into a grinder. The best way to beat Miami, maybe the only way to beat Miami, is to out-tough the Heat.
“You have to be willing to sacrifice your individual game, mostly on the defensive end,” Fisher said.
Check out the 2011 NBA Finals, when the Mavericks upset the Heat four games to two. Not until Game 5 did a team score more than 95 points. Games 3 and 4 were won 88-86 (by Miami) and 86-83 (by Dallas).
“It's going to come down to the pick'n roll when Dwyane Wade has the ball, LeBron James has the basketball,” Fisher said. “The little things. Who's getting the loose balls? Who's boxing outs? Who's making free throws?”
For all the glitz of the Heatles and Showtime South Beach, Miami is more pit bull than show horse.
More back alley than spotlighted stage.
“They have toughness,” Brooks said. “They have a lot of intangibles. That helps you win big games.”
Beat the Heat? You've got to out-tough the Heat. Not easy. Not easy at all.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.