On the eve of All-Star Weekend, the NBA has staged a repeat of last year’s Finals, and what could be a precursor for a monumental rematch.
The Miami Heat puts up its six-game win streak against the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The last time LeBron James and company were in Oklahoma City was Game Two of the Finals, when he recorded 32 points and Miami began a four game win streak en route to the second title in franchise history.
It was the same result earlier this season when the Heat took the first rematch on Christmas Day, with James pouring in 29 points along with eight rebounds and nine assists in a 103-97 win that saw Oklahoma City take 38 trips to the free throw line to Miami’s 19 attempts.
Still both clubs are on pace to meet again in the Finals, with the Heat currently No. 1 in the East, and the Thunder just two games back of San Antono for the top spot out West.
The 39-13 Thunder could gain some semblance of revenge by hindering James and his colossal production over the last six games. James has scored at least 30 points while shooting a minimum 60 percent from the field, tying an NBA record currently shared by former greats Adrian Dantley and Moses Malone.
NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant, netting 29 points per game, could be seen crying after last year’s Finals, and has used that emotion to once again propel Oklahoma City. Durant has the opportunity to also join a rare club, as he's on pace to shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc, and 90 percent from the free throw line. The last player to accomplish the feat was then Phoenix Sun Steve Nash.
Durant kept up his solid production by netting 33 points Tuesday night against the Utah Jazz but the Thunder fell 109-94. Point guard Russell Westbrook followed Durant’s lead with 22 points and five assists, but was plagued by seven turnovers. Though he was named to his second straight All-Star game, Westbrook has 11 giveaways in his last two games.
Many felt Thunder center Serge Ibaka was unjustly passed over for the All-Star game, and the Congo native responded to the perceived snub by recording 3.8 blocks per game in February, nearly a block more than his season average. Ibaka had seven blocks against the Jazz and chipped in 10 points.
That dominant trend may change Thursday. Ibaka has 11 blocks in seven career games against Miami.
Lost in the shuffle of James’s historic run is the re-found consistency of Heat guard Dwyane Wade. Over the last six games, Wade has netted at least 20 points and nearly three steals. Wade struggled at the start of the season, as he slowly healed from off-season knee surgery, but may have found his midseason groove.
After missing two straight games with the flu, Miami forward Chris Bosh has come back hitting the boards. Bosh grabbed 11 rebounds in his last two contests, and will have to keep up that production to help Miami’s last ranked rebounding rate.
The action tips-off at 8 p.m. eastern and will be broadcast by TNT, or you can watch their live online stream on TNT Overtime here.
Betting Odds: Oklahoma City is favored by 4.5 points
Over/Under: 206 points
Prediction: Having lost the first meeting on the road, the Thunder know they have to defend home their home turf, and this will be the first road game for Miami after a five-game home stand. Durant and Westbrook will handle the scoring load as usual, but how Ibaka controls the paint and James’s drives will determine the game. OKC will win a tight one that comes down to the final minutes.
Predicted Score: Oklahoma City 103, Miami 99
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