LeBron James and the Miami Heat have played second fiddle to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder lately. Yet on Feb. 20, James and the Heat showed Durant, the returning Russell Westbrook and the Thunder that they have a ways to go to dethrone the champions. It came at a cost for James, however, as his big night ended with a nose injury before Miami finished an otherwise perfect 103-82 win.
James had 33 points before getting struck on the nose by Serge Ibaka halfway through the fourth quarter. The Heat could afford to take him out by then, as they'd already turned the much anticipated duel between MVP favorites James and Durant into a blowout.
The Thunder were behind the eight ball immediately, as James got 16 of his 33 points in the first quarter. After weeks of dominance, Durant finally hit a wall, although he eventually got 28 points on 10-of-22 shooting. It didn't excuse his slow start, or hold back doubts that Westbrook's return would help more than hurt.
Westbrook had 16 points on a mere four-for-12 shooting night, as he hardly made a splash -- at least a positive one -- in his comeback. In contrast, all of Miami's big stars came out firing, as James was aided by 24 points each from Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
When the Thunder went on their tear a month back, it was highlighted by an 18 point rally and a blowout victory on the Heat's home floor on Jan. 29. Now that Miami has returned the favor at Oklahoma City and held a big early lead this time, there's only one way left to break the tie -- in the NBA Finals.
With the Heat now closing in on the Indiana Pacers for the East's top seed, this may be the time where Miami rounds back into championship form. The Pacers have set the pace in the East all year, while the Thunder stormed to the West's best record during Westbrook's absence. But despite Indiana, Oklahoma City and Durant coming out hot early, Miami is re-emerging as the team to beat for the end.
This will be easier to do if James doesn't hurt his nose again, or any more valuable body parts. Nevertheless, he did not suffer a concussion, although his nose may be sore enough to make him wear a mask for a while.