Updated: April 5, 2012, 2:12 PM ET

1. Heat-Thunder: Until We Meet Again ...

By Brian Windhorst

MIAMI -- Amid a season in the rough with tired legs, choppy play and injuries galore, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder provided a diamond Wednesday night.

It was a game that quenched the appetite for the competitors and fans alike. LeBron James and Kevin Durant glaring in each other's eyes and impressing, outdoing and challenging each other for entire quarters on end. Hard fouls and rough language. Technicals and flagrants. Pressure-stuffed moments in the final minute.

It left everyone wanting more, especially the players themselves as the beginning roots of a rivalry began to sprout. All that's needed is a meeting in the playoffs.

For that, all will have to wait and see. For the regular season, the Heat evened the series at 1-1 with a high-energy 98-93 win. It was their 17th straight home victory, but no win this season, in fact no game, has had quite the same intensity.

"This was a competitive warrior game where our guys can go in the locker room and look each other in the eyes," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as part of an adrenaline-fueled rant after the game in which he started referring to imagined enemies and looked as if he were ready to stand and beat his chest at one point. "Our guys showed up with a real warrior-tough mentality."

The warrior references and his players' postgame chest-bowing -- a perfect yin to the Thunder's yang of bitterness at the outcome -- about how they aren't to be pushed could be excused to a degree. It just wasn't your average Wednesday at the office.

It was channeled through James and Durant, whose individual battle was as entertaining as it was impressive. James steal, Durant block, James pull-up jumper, Durant dunk, James drive and foul, Durant laser-beam 3-pointer, James steal again.

This is how it was for swaths of the game, the audience drinking it in as the two Most Valuable Player candidates slugged it out. What it means for the actual award was secondary; that was not in their minds at all. It was the type of back-and-forth fans yearn for in these sorts of games.

After Durant struck a deep blow to James 10 days earlier in Oklahoma City when the Thunder whipped the Heat and Durant nearly posted a triple-double, James struck back. He had 34 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals for perhaps his finest all-around performance of the season.

It came with a toll: James twisted his left ankle, rejammed his left ring finger and took a nasty fall off a foul from Russell Westbrook that might've been the turning point in the game.

"I need to find the best damn masseuse in Miami," James groaned after the game.

Durant's counter was not insignificant; he had 30 points. including nine in the fourth quarter. But James got the best of him this time, helping force most of Durant's career-high nine turnovers with his activity on defense.

But just stopping with the Durant-James interplay would not be appropriate -- there was so much more happening. From Dwyane Wade returning from a minor knee injury to engage in a rugged battle of offensive attrition with Westbrook -- the two of them combined to miss 28 shots -- to Chris Bosh recovering from a woeful shooting performance to make a clutch jumper in the final minute.

More intriguing, though, was the sense of dislike between the teams that seemed to grow throughout the game. Understand this has been festering for a while, seeds getting dropped over the past year.

Last season, it was Durant who objected to some of Bosh's trash talk, prompting Durant to say: "There's a lot of fake tough guys in this league and [Bosh] is one of them."

Earlier this season Kendrick Perkins took offense to a James tweet congratulating Blake Griffin for a dunk over him. He told Yahoo! Sports: "I just feel [James] is always looking for attention and he wants the world to like him."

All that talk got real Wednesday when Perkins was given a technical for hitting Wade in the head on a drive to the basket. Then moments later, Westbrook was hit with a flagrant foul when he caught James from behind on a breakaway, pulling him off balance and sending him sprawling to the floor.

After the Westbrook foul, which happened with the Heat down seven points, Wade gathered his team together and started barking. It ended up kicking off a run that enabled the Heat to take the lead by halftime and changed the nature of the game.

"I said, 'Look what they're doing to us, look at what they're doing to our guys,'" Wade said. "When it's time for these kind of games, we have guys who can step up and do it. We're not fake tough guys, we're not TV thugs. We go out and play basketball. When it's time to get into the fight, we have a lot of guys who can get into it."

James, meanwhile, stopped just short of calling Westbrook's play dirty.

"I don't know, I'm not one to say it was a dirty play or not a dirty play, I'll let you guys decide," James said. "It's a dangerous play. Just look at the other end, Russ being as athletic as he is going down the lane and someone tries that. It's a fine line."

The talking didn't just take place in the locker room. Durant and Westbrook were in a constant conversation with the Heat bench, glaring over after made baskets. When it was over, there were no handshakes, just a small Durant wave to James, his offseason training partner.

It was unspoken, but it had an "until we meet again" vibe.

Not possible, of course, unless it's in the Finals. After a great start, recently the Heat haven't looked like they were ready for such a run. But this victory left them again thinking anything was possible and tied them with the Thunder in the loss column and pulled them to within two games of the Bulls for the best overall record. And it had them talking big again.

"There's certain games in the season and certain matchups that you want to play well," James said. "And if it sends a message then so be it."

Dimes past: March 21 | 22 | 23-24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30-31 | April 1 | 2| 3

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