Thunder Set for Christmas Clash with Heat

Growing up as a kid, Kevin Durant remembers watching NBA teams play in nationally-televised games on Christmas Day. Now, with the Thunder, he’s going to get the chance to do so himself.

The Thunder, with a 21-5 record on the season, travels to Miami to take on the Heat on Tuesday, pitting two teams in the top three in the NBA standings against one another. The Thunder played last on Thursday in Minnesota, and had opportunities to get better at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center over the weekend in anticipation for the game on Tuesday. The Thunder will be in search of its third consecutive victory on Christmas after winning on December 25th each of the last two years.

“It’s a blessing and an honor to play on Christmas,” Durant said. “That’s what I think I’m looking at more, having the opportunity to play on Christmas… Playing against Miami- one of the best teams in the league- is a good test for us. We’re looking forward to going down there and having fun, first off, and playing our game.”

The Thunder played 17 games during the month of November, but the schedule has slowed down a bit for the team in December, highlighted by the four days off between the Timberwolves game and the clash in Miami. Regardless of that, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team works every day to get into a rhythm and improve as a unit. The extra rest can help heal the bumps and bruises, and also give the Thunder a chance to work on its offensive sets and defensive communication.

“We want to still come back the next day with the same mindset, the same focus and the same determination,” Brooks said. “I think it’s always good to have rest between games. We can kind of rejuvenate the soul and come back with a renewed, fresh approach to the next game.”

The only team who has a better home record this season than Miami is the Thunder, with the Heat coming in at 13-2 and the Thunder holding a 14-2 mark at home. Brooks’ squad is 7-3 on the road this season, pitting two high caliber teams against one another in the 4:30 p.m. CT tip-off on Christmas Day. There are differences between the two teams in that a large part of the Thunder’s offense stems from the playmaking ability of point guard Russell Westbrook as opposed to the Heat, whose wings LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dominate the ball.

“We’re playing a little different style,” Brooks said. “They’re still one of the best teams in basketball. They have a great home record. We’re going to have to play well to come out with a victory.”

The similarities between the two teams, however, are far greater than differences. The likeness between the two teams doesn’t stop in the win-loss column, but extend to a variety of different categories. Both teams rank in the top four in points per game, top two in shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage.

The Thunder ranks better in free throw shooting, rebounding and defensive field goal percentage, but the Heat certainly pose one of the most difficult challenges the Thunder will face this season. The key for Durant and his teammates, however, is to approach this game the same way they do every other game during the year. The preparation, determination, focus and passion the Thunder plays with stems from Durant and Westbrook’s leadership and is a requirement each night.

“It’s just another game on the schedule,” Durant said. “I have to come and show up for my team and be a leader on the court for my team. That’s all I’m worried about.”