Updated: December 26, 2012, 2:27 AM ET

1. Miami's Actions Speak Louder Than Words

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- If there was one key thing three-time league MVP LeBron James maintained throughout Tuesday's latest thrilling showdown with three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, it was perspective.

Plenty of it.

James had several chances to talk about how the Miami Heat's Christmas Day matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder rekindled emotions from six months ago when the Heat beat the Thunder on the very same floor to clinch the NBA Finals.

But James refused to go there.

He was asked repeatedly after leading the Heat to a 103-97 victory Tuesday whether, after five straight wins, Miami is building any sort of psychological edge over Durant and Russell Westbrook that the Thunder might not overcome anytime soon in this magnificent rivalry that's brewing.

Yet James wanted no part of the discussion.

"I understood that this is the first time that we've played them since that Game 5 victory [in the Finals]," James said. "But none of those memories came back. It had a great feel. I'm not going to say it was just a regular-season game. It had a great feel, great flow. But nothing compares to June."

As the cliché goes, actions speak louder than words. Repeated outcomes tend to speak even louder. Sure, six months have passed since James won his first championship by overwhelming Durant and the Thunder. But at least one thing hasn't changed: Oklahoma City still doesn't quite stack up well against the Heat.

And until the Thunder figure out that they can't beat Miami at its own game -- that the old 3-on-3 Hoop It Up, small-ball only plays in the Heat's favor -- the ultimate outcome between these teams won't change when titles are at stake.

James and the Heat will be smart and humble about that fact. But they know they're still the team to beat, that Oklahoma City continues to be first among them to blink. Miami is still the team dictating the pace, the level of aggression and all of the meaningful in-game matchups.

These Heat-Thunder showdowns are still being controlled on Miami's terms, much like those James-Durant offseason workouts are mostly carried out on James' hometown turf.

On Tuesday, the Heat withstood a game-high 33 points from Durant, a double-double from Westbrook, being outrebounded and a free-throw discrepancy of 19 attempts and still were able to send the Thunder home frustrated.

James nearly finished with a triple-double, collecting 29 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds in 42 minutes. The Heat also got another well-rounded, explosive game from Dwyane Wade, a 10-point second half from Chris Bosh and a season-high 20 points from Mario Chalmers. It was reminiscent of those games back in June, when Miami got what it needed from the Big Three and an unexpected boost from role players to win four straight after losing Game 1.

The Heat know the Thunder can't beat them straight up right now with Durant, Westbrook and Kevin Martin, who replaced James Harden, exclusively doing the damage while Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are bystanders. The Thunder came in having won 12 of their last 13 and carrying the league's best record. They left AmericanAirlines Arena on Tuesday dejected, frustrated and still searching for answers against their main nemesis.

"We always say later, later," Bosh said of the tendency to downplay regular-season games as opportunities to make statements. "But now means something. Every game in the season means something. We didn't want to lose this game. It's a big game, of course. Everybody's watching. But most importantly, they're using this game as a measuring stick for themselves because of what happened. We've been in that situation, and it's a very tough situation to be in."

Ultimately, Bosh's point was that the Heat want to repeat as champions as badly as the Thunder want to break through and capture their first title. Barring major injuries, Miami is still heavily favored to come out of the East again.

And unless something changes in the Thunder's approach or the performance of their personnel beyond Durant and Westbrook, they will continue to look up to the Heat.

"I think we did a great job of fighting," Durant said of trying to close the slight gap between the teams. "We were still about two punches from them. It's always intense when we play. That's how the game goes when you want to win so badly. We just have to move on and keep getting better."

Meanwhile, the Heat move on with the understanding that they still have the combination to succeed against an improved Thunder team that, as Durant said, is two punches away from knocking down that proverbial wall. Oklahoma City is a headache for 28 of the league's other 29 teams with few capable of matching Durant's length and Westbrook's athleticism on the perimeter.

But stylistically, they're tailor-made for the Heat.

"They have, for different reasons, been trying different things," Wade said. "They have the ability to put different guys on our different guys. But they're matching up to us, and we're continuing to do the same thing that we do versus most teams, which is our comfort [zone]."

Eventually, odds are the Thunder will figure this out and ultimately overcome the Heat.

Time certainly seems to be on their side.

Durant and Westbrook both turned 24 within the past few months -- plenty of success is in their future. Heck, they're doing quite well in the present.

But James, Wade and Bosh are in their collective prime.

"They play with a game that belies their number of years in this league," Spoelstra said of the Thunder's rapidly rising superstars. "That is a hungry group. That is a motivated group. That is a talented group. That young core has gotten better each year. They have similar DNA to the guys we have in our locker room."

Spoelstra suggested the intensity of Tuesday's game felt like it was being played in June instead of December.

That's a difference of six months.

Yet it seemed time stood still for the Heat.

Dimes past: Dec. 7-8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14-15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21-22 | 23

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