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James scores 39 as Heat hold off Thunder

The SportsXchange

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It had all the makings of a classic confrontation.

The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, the teams that played in last year's NBA Finals, met on Valentine's Day before the All-Star break.

For three quarters, the game was far from a classic, as the Heat looked as if they would cruise to a win. However, the Thunder battled back in the fourth quarter before the Miami held on for a 110-100 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Miami (36-14) swept the season series and has now won six straight games against the Thunder dating to the Finals.

"A little bit of a strange ending," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "For the most part, our guys came out focused and did enough to put ourselves in a position to win on both ends. We beat a great team here at home, so we will take it and take it to the break."

The Heat nearly sustained a crushing defeat, as Oklahoma City (39-14) made a solid attempt to steal the game.

After being dominated for three quarters, the Thunder struck back in the fourth behind Kevin Durant. He found his shooting stroke and helped Oklahoma City close the deficit to 11 with four minutes remaining. It began to look like the game fans had expected.

However, each time Oklahoma City got close, LeBron James had an answer. He showed why he's the standard Durant is still trying to reach.

James finished with 39 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. However, his streak of consecutive games with 30-plus points and 60 percent-plus shooting from the field ended at six. James missed his final shot from 3-point range to finish 14-for-24 from the floor (58 percent).

"He's a great player," Durant said of James. "He's done it all. He's got an MVP, got a championship, I played with him on the gold medal team (for the United States in the London Olympics). He's playing great. Once you gain confidence, once you're feeling good, those shots he was making tonight come from the last week he's had. You can't do nothing about it. You have to sit and take it."

James said, "We wanted to go to the break on a high note. We didn't just want to come in here and not play well and allow them to do what they wanted us to do. We came in with a high level."

Chris Bosh added 20 points and 12 rebounds for Miami. Dwayne Wade was held to 13 points and eight assists before fouling out.

Durant paced Oklahoma City with 40 points on 12-for-24 shooting from the field. Russell Westbrook added 26 points and 10 assists. However, the Thunder got only 16 points, seven rebounds and no assists from their bench.

"What I can see tonight is a team, kind of like last year, this team is never going to die," Wade said of the Thunder. "They have so many weapons, they are going to keep coming at you. This is a good team, no matter if they are having an off night. They always end the ballgame, so that makes them dangerous."

The Heat were on their game early. They had the Thunder running in circles as they tried to keep up with their crisp passing. Miami jumped out to a 28-13 lead.

On consecutive plays, Durant was called for a technical foul and then was undercut going for a rebound and landed awkwardly. After lying on the ground for a couple of minutes, he got up and stayed in the game.

The Heat led 32-17 going into the second quarter.

Even with James on the bench to start the second quarter, the Thunder could only get within 11. Defense helped Miami gain separation. No matter what Oklahoma City tried to do, Miami had an answer.

Durant didn't make his first field goal of the game until there was 4:21 left in the second quarter, when he hit a 3-pointer while falling out of bounds.

James picked up three fouls in final two minutes of the first half. He was called for a technical foul arguing with referee Joey Crawford.

Despite that, Miami led 63-46 at halftime.

For much of the third quarter, the beating continued, as Miami stretched its lead to 23 points. The Thunder cut the margin to 16 with less than a minute left in the quarter before a Shane Battier 3-pointer pushed it back to 88-69 heading into fourth quarter.

"Maybe it was nerves or too excited," Durant said. "That was the game, I think. I was missing some shots in the lane. Missing some layups. But the thing about me, I keep coming at it. I keep coming back. Believing in myself, trusting in my work, and I was able to make a few the second half. We were playing for pride. We kept fighting. We made it a game."

NOTES: According to Basketball Reference, Durant entered the night leading the NBA in "Win Shares," which quantifies a player's overall impact on his team's ability to win. He was slightly ahead of James. ... The Heat had taken 48 offensive charges heading into Thursday. Udonis Haslem led the way with 17, and Battier had 16. James had none. .. Despite making his third All-Star Game, Westbrook has had his share of critics this season. That includes TNT analyst Steve Kerr. "I still want to see a more composed version of Russell Westbrook," Kerr said. "I think the internal improvement there really starts with him, both with his offensive efficiency -- there is no reason why he should shoot 41 percent; he's just too good of a player -- and there is just no reason for his tantrums."
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