|Miami Heat forward LeBron James, left, goes up for a basket in front of Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant during the first quarter of a NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)|
Thunder take down turnover-prone Heat 103-87
OKLAHOMA CITY—Kevin Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and tied his season-high with eight assists, Kendrick Perkins added a season-best 16 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder opened a difficult stretch in their schedule by beating the Miami Heat 103-87 on Sunday night.
The two title contenders opened the day tied for the second-best record in the NBA, three games behind the Chicago Bulls in the race for the top overall seed in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City claimed this one, getting a season-high 13 steals and forcing Miami into 21 turnovers that led to 28 Thunder points.
Dwyane Wade led Miami with 22 points but also committed a season-worst six turnovers. LeBron James had 17 points, seven assists and four turnovers.
Oklahoma City took the lead for good in the first 4 minutes of the second quarter, built on it despite losing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to three first-half fouls and stayed ahead by at least eight throughout the second half.
Serge Ibaka and James Harden each scored 19 for Oklahoma City and Westbrook finished with 13 points, one game after going for a career-high 45 in a double-overtime win against Minnesota on Friday night.
The Heat made a brief 8-0 comeback spurt, fueled by back-to-back turnovers by Harden, and pulled to 91-83 after Shane Battier's second straight 3-pointer with 7:14 remaining.
Perkins put an end to that rally by getting open for two-handed slams on consecutive possessions, and Durant nailed a 3 with 3:20 remaining to push Oklahoma City's lead back out to 100-85. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra pulled his big three -- James, Wade and Chris Bosh -- with 96 seconds left facing a 16-point deficit.
Before the game, Spoelstra called Miami's stretch of three straight road games -- and five of six -- an opportunity to take a step forward.
"We've been disappointed in our play on the road in general since the All-Star break," Spoelstra said.
Instead, the Heat continued a rough patch with five losses in their last seven road games. During a 14-game home winning streak spanning the past two months, Miami is only 10-7 on the road.
"Our most important thing right now is to find a next level of basketball. We don't necessarily even know if we have another level or two but we want to keep on pushing to get to that point and find a better consistency than we've had the last three weeks," Spoelstra said beforehand.
"When we're playing on the top of our game, we feel we can win anywhere. But we're not quite there yet."
Durant said every game at this time of the year is a chance to send a message -- and his Thunder did it by challenging every pass.
"I guess that's what every team does is always trying to find another level toward the end of the season that they can push to. For us, I think we're in the right direction," Durant said. "We've got to just keep working, keep improving. But I think we can try to kick it up a notch."
Bosh had 18 points and five turnovers -- giving Miami's All-Star trio 15 giveaways combined.
The Heat get a chance at a rematch April 4 in Miami. Before then, Oklahoma City faces a road game against the Los Angeles Lakers and a visit from the Bulls during a tough 11-day stretch.
With Westbrook picking up his third foul with 7 1/2 minutes left before halftime, Durant played a bigger role in orchestrating the offense and helped the Thunder increase their lead. He had a layup in transition and a foul line jumper and set up Perkins' two-handed slam and Harden's fast-break layup during a 12-2 burst that put Oklahoma City up 55-42 with 2:01 to go before halftime.
Durant's 3-pointer from the top of the key, set up by Ibaka's pick, gave the Thunder a 60-49 edge at the half.
Oklahoma City shot 67 percent in the first half and never let Miami -- the league's second-best defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 38 percent -- piece together enough stops to mount a rally. The Thunder didn't make a basket for the first four minutes after halftime but the Heat only connected twice in that span.
Ibaka broke the drought with a two-handed slam, Durant followed with a right-handed jam off of Westbrook's alley-oop and the lead stretched to 68-53 following Ibaka's putback with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
Even when Wade finished the third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beater from four steps beyond midcourt, it didn't give Miami any momentum.
NOTES: The Heat are tied for the franchise's best start after 47 games at 35-12. ... The game included four of the NBA's top six scorers -- Durant, James, Westbrook and Wade. ... Miami's season-worst turnover total is 22. ... Harden had a career-worst seven turnovers, two more than he'd ever had before.