Updated: March 26, 2012, 11:37 AM ET

1. KD, Thunder Bring Trophy-Quality Game

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was some disagreement whether the Miami Heat playing the Oklahoma City Thunder was a NBA Finals preview or just a big game in March.

As it turned out, the teams themselves didn't seem to agree on the exact magnitude of their first meeting of the season on Sunday. The Heat played like it was the start of a series, taking a feeling-out approach and acting like they weren't exactly prepared for what they were going to get.

The Thunder played like it was a single-elimination game, deploying a detailed and developed game plan and then overwhelming the Heat with energy and aggression in a 103-87 win.

It was manifested by their leading men, who happen to be the top two candidates for the most valuable player award depending on who you ask. Kevin Durant rather thoroughly outplayed LeBron James, by besting him in every facet. Including, and this was perhaps the most interesting surprise, sharing the ball.

Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant and Serge Ibaka kept the Thunder in control.

Durant tied his season-high with eight assists, part of a masterful performance of 28 points, nine rebounds and two steals. If the MVP vote were held after the game, Durant would probably be holding the trophy.

"I was just trying to make the right plays," Durant said. "I really just wanted to get my teammates involved."

It isn't an official stat but Durant probably had four or five more "hockey assists" when he made passes that led to assists. This was part of the Thunder's game plan, which Heat coach Erik Spoelstra described in crediting Oklahoma City with winning the mental part of the game and Dwyane Wade called "taking advantage of our defensive schemes." More on that in a moment.

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James, who was defended by Durant most of the night, shot just 8-of-18 from the field, for 17 points with 3 rebounds and 7 assists. The last four games have maybe been James' weakest offensively as a member of the Heat. He's averaged just 17 points and shot just 40 percent in that span.

Last week, in a game against the Suns, James took a hard fall and banged his elbow and later was hit in the head. Since then he hasn't looked like the same player who was in the midst of his most efficient offensive season ever. He has repeatedly declined to blame the skid on injuries.

After having the best shooting season of his career through the first 40 games of the season, this could be a regression toward the mean. James, who didn't have an ice bag on his elbow after the game, said he was just in a slump.

"I've just got to find my touch," James said. "Everyone goes through one of these and I've had it the last four or five games."

James, apparently, also needs to find his teammates. About the only thing the Heat had going offensively in the second half -- when they weren't turning the ball over, which they did 21 times in the game -- was Wade. He had nine of his 22 points in the third quarter including a 56-foot bomb he made at the buzzer.

Then Wade went the entire fourth quarter without a shot. He only had 10 shots for the entire game. Obviously, this isn't standard. For comparison purposes, Wade hadn't taken less than 16 shots in the last eight games.

It was James who controlled the offense for much of the fourth quarter and played the point guard role down the stretch. James, it seemed, looked more for Battier and Udonis Haslem than Wade. Including one fastbreak where James missed Wade streaking open and it drew a head shake from the team captain.

"I'd rather not comment on that," Wade said. "I'd don't want to talk about the offense."

It was the first time in memory that Wade seemed to openly show displeasure about shots since he's been James' teammate. This season they mostly had been working well together, both on fast breaks and in the half court. That alone shows what sort of anomaly the Heat were forced into by the aggressive Thunder.

"They jumped us and everybody saw it," Spoelstra said. "They kicked our butts, we know it, we'll own it."

On defense, Oklahoma City used their remarkable length to disrupt numerous Heat passes. Miami just wasn't used to have to be concerned about such defensive quickness. It showed right from the start when Mario Chalmers turned the ball over on his first pass of the game when he misjudged Russell Westbrook's wingspan.

"You don't see too many teams like that," Wade said. "It's like they teach a drill to keep their hands involved with everything. You can't scout for how quick they are."

On offense, Oklahoma City took advantage of the Heat's willingness to attack the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. This has been very effective all year and given guards from Steve Nash to Jeremy Lin problems. But the Thunder were ready for it and just passed their way right through it.

Time after time they beat the Heat's rotations with quick ball movement and found their big men, who the Heat's styled often ignores, for easy baskets. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game it was part of the plan.

Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, consequently, combined to shoot 16-of-21 and score 35 points. Combined with Durant and James Harden, who had 19 points off the bench, and the Thunder had themselves a sound victory.

"It gives us confidence," Durant said. "It gives everyone confidence."


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