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Thunder storms past Miami in 99-74 blowout decision

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With several players out due to injury, the shorthanded Heat collapsed in the second half against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When the Miami Heat faced the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this season, it was an exciting back-and-forth contest that saw 38 lead changes with the Heat ultimately proving victorious.

Sunday's game wasn't anywhere as thrilling.

After sitting out the last game due to injury, Dwyane Wade would return to the lineup against the Thunder. On his 34th birthday, perhaps Wade was looking for a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, the Heat were shorthanded in the backcourt with Goran Dragic continuing to nurse a strained calf and Beno Udrih out with a neck injury; Tyler Johnson would make just the fourth start of his NBA career.

Johnson took advantage of All-Star Russell Westbrook's questionable defense and was able to get some early scores, helping Miami build an 8-2 lead. Wade also looked refreshed, scoring with ease both at the rim and from midrange. But the Thunder are considered a legitimate title contender for a reason and the second-best offense in the league took a 24-18 lead in the first. The Heat shot a paltry 35 percent in the period and OKC's Steven Adams, an underrated tough presence in the middle, helped limit Hassan Whiteside and gave the Thunder an early rebounding edge.

Miami's effort improved in the next quarter and a 6-0 run cut OKC's lead to just 3 points. The defense that has kept them in close games all year was evident, holding the Thunder to just 36 percent shooting in the first half, including 3-of-13 from 3-point range. Entering halftime down 44-42, this had all the makings of another exciting game like the first matchup between these two teams.

Oklahoma City had no interest in giving up their lead and exploded for 17-2 run that left Miami shell shocked and down 66-50 with five minutes left to play in the third quarter. Kevin Durant caught fire after a poor shooting start (finishing the night with 24 points), Russell Westbrook was making pinpoint passes (15 assists) and Serge Ibaka provided the complementary scoring (19 points) that makes this team such a dangerous threat.

For Miami, things only got worse. Gerald Green would sit out the second half with knee tendinitis and the Heat got only a combined two points from the combination of Luol Deng and Justise WInslow (scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting).

Chris Bosh struggled as well, going just 5-of-16 from the floor and finishing with just 12 points and four rebounds.

By the end of the third, the outcome of the game was really never in doubt. Wade looked brilliant all night (finishing with 22 points) and Johnson's 16 points (7-of-12, including 2-of-3 from long-range) were a great boost. But with such uneven production from the rest of team - and with OKC firing on all cylinders - this exhausted, depleted team simply didn't have the energy to launch a comeback attempt.

Another bright spot from the game was Whiteside's improved effort, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Not only was he more of a factor on pick-and-roll defense but he also let loose an array of long jumpers that showed his legitimate shooting range.

Otherwise, Miami's six-game road trip ends on a whimper, with a 2-4 record and perhaps the team's postseason chances hanging on the brink. Although the Heat still stands at 23-18 (fifth in the Eastern Conference), things don't get much easier from here. The soft early-season schedule is just a fading memory and Miami faces a dangerous Milwaukee team on Tuesday before embarking on another long road trip - five games that includes stops in Chicago, Toronto and Washington.

If the team has any hope of competing for home court advantage in the playoffs - or even just a postseason berth - a return to relative health and more consistency on both ends will be required.