The traditional Christmas rematch of the NBA Finals is the main event of the Yuletide schedule Tuesday when the Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Heat and LeBron James prevailed in five games of last season's NBA Finals to finally get James that elusive championship ring. Oklahoma City won Game 1, but the Heat took the next four to earn its second championship in franchise history.
This is the first time the two will meet since June.
The Heat roll into this marquee matchup with a four-game winning streak. Three of the four wins came at home, including a 105-89 drubbing of the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
The Heat have improved significantly over the month of December on the defensive end. In 10 games this month, the Heat have allowed only two 100- point games and held the opposition to an average of 93.3 ppg.
Miami will need all of its defensive prowess on Christmas night. The Thunder rank first in the NBA in scoring and had a 12-game winning streak snapped on Thursday.
"It's a huge game for a lot of reasons," said LeBron James. "First of all, the fans get an opportunity to see some great games on Christmas. It should be a great matchup, but it doesn't define our season, it doesn't define their season."
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant essentially agrees about the magnitude of the matchup.
"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's game has been putting the ball in the hoop. During their 12-game winning streak, Oklahoma City scored over 100 points 11 times, but the Thunder failed to crack the century mark on Thursday.
The Thunder fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 99-93 in Minnesota. Without Kevin Martin due to a bruised right quadriceps, Durant and Russell Westbrook both scored over 30. Serge Ibaka was the only other Thunder player to score in double-digits.
Now, the Thunder enjoyed a long layoff before this crucial battle with the Heat. They head into a game following a loss for the first time since Nov. 23.
"I think it's always good to have rest between games," said head coach Scott Brooks. "We can kind of rejuvenate the soul and come back with a renewed, fresh approach to the next game."
Excluding the Finals, these teams have split their last eight regular-season games. The Thunder defeated the Heat in Miami on Mar. 16, 2011.
The Sports Network