Miami Heat Look to Extend Win Streak in Oklahoma City


The Miami Heat (32-36) have matched their longest win streak of the season and are going for their fourth win in a row against the Oklahoma City Thunder (39-30). Both teams have faced numerous injury issues but are still fighting to hold on to a spot in the playoff standings. Will the Heat be able be able to keep their momentum going in Oklahoma City?

Start Time: 3:00 p.m. EST
Location: Game will be played in Oklahoma City at the Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV Info: Fox Sports
Radio: 104.3 The Ticket

2012 seems like a very long time ago.

That’s when these two teams, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, met in the NBA Finals. Their respective rosters have been overhauled and they’ve both lost key players this season to injury. Yet, when they meet on Sunday, all of that will be put aside to push for a victory that could help cement their place in the playoff standings.

Miami’s injury woes are well-known and, despite them, they seem to be playing their best basketball all season; a chance at a fourth-straight win would be their longest such streak of the season. But the Oklahoma City Thunder have been consistently ravaged by injury. They lost two of the top players in the NBA in October (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) and had to claw their way back to a winning record once those players came back from injury late last year.

But Durant will be held out of basketball-related activities for the foreseeable future and Serge Ibaka, one of the top defenders in the league, is out for 4-6 weeks following knee surgery. So how have they remained in contention?

They’ve rebuilt their roster around their three core superstars (sound familiar?) and pulled off major trades this year for key complementary role players. Enes Kanter, acquired from the Utah Jazz at the trade deadline, has been a huge boost for OKC; he provides the low-post scoring that the Thunder have never had. D.J. Augustin and Dion Waiters have provided some scoring punch as both reserves and starters. And Anthony Morrow, an under-the-radar free agent signing this past summer, has been incredible from long-range, hitting clutch shots in key games this season.

None of that matters, though, without the ridiculous play of Russell Westbrook.

He had his ninth triple-double of the season on Friday in an upset win over the Atlanta Hawks, the top team in the Eastern Conference. He’s a legitimate MVP candidate and the numbers certainly back that up. Moreover, simply watch him play is a maddening experience – he still has the propensity to put up crazy shots, and his PUJIT (pull-up jumper in transition) is probably responsible for more heart attacks in Oklahoma than 64-ounce steaks and Marlboro cigarettes combined. But the speed and athleticism with which he plays is unreal (if you need a frame of reference, he’s a 6’3″ LeBron on the court).

Still, while Westbrook always gives this team a chance at victory, they’ll need key contributions from whatever players are available on OKC’s roster. Forward Nick Collison is out for at least 10 days due to a sprained ankle in Friday’s win. Kanter (also an ankle injury) might not play although he reportedly practiced with the team on Saturday. And other than Westbrook, everyone else is prone to bad nights (Waiters in particular goes from great to terrible very quickly – he had 24 points on Friday so…)

Miami’s best hope of victory will come from finding a way to defend Westbrook and forcing other players to step up; it’s a classic case of easier said than done (as Russell is averaging 32.4 points, 10.4 assists and 9.3 rebounds over his last 21 games). Watch for Luol Deng to spend some time trying to limit Westbrook from attacking the rim. Should Kanter play, he’ll be a load to handle down low and Hassan Whiteside will be tested to avoid picking up early fouls.

The Thunder have been exploited on the defensive end in recent weeks (the price of losing Ibaka) but Andre Roberson – who will match up with Wade – is a solid defender. And while OKC’s Mitch McGary provides some hustle and scoring off the bench, Chris Andersen should be able to limit him from being effective.

All in all, these teams match up better than you might think. There’s differences here and there, but today’s game might just be decided by a role player, even as Wade and Westbrook continue their recent brilliance. Despite the changes over the past three seasons, they still find themselves linked, at least for one afternoon, where one game could decide their postseason fate.

Check back with All U Can Heat after the game for post-game grades, a full recap, analysis and more.

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