NORMAN — Almost every player in the NBA grew up watching epic NBA Christmas Day battles. The Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and ‘76ers helped the league grow by entertaining fans on what has become basketball’s marquee day.
But as old rivalries have faded into the background, a new generation of players and teams are getting their chance to prove themselves on the regular season’s most important day. That includes Oklahoma City, which makes its third straight Dec. 25 appearance when it travels to Miami for a 4:30 p.m. tip against the Heat this afternoon.
“It’s a blessing and an honor to play on Christmas,” Thunder forward Kevin 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 enter the contest with the best record in the league at 21-5. However, they’re coming off a loss to Minnesota on Friday that ended a 12-game winning streak.
Today’s contest will be the first time the Heat and Thunder have met since Game 5 of the finals, when Miami won its first NBA championship of its LeBron era. Arguably, both squads have changed considerably since.
“We’re playing a little different style,” Thunder coach Scott 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.”
Despite that, Oklahoma City has been on a mission through the first third of the season. The Thunder lead the league in scoring and margin of victory. They have quickly come to terms with playing without James Harden and have seamlessly transitioned to relying on Kevin Martin coming off the bench.