Given Kevin Durant's spectacular season, many have already anointed him as the man to usurp LeBron James as MVP. And led by Durant's explosive scoring, the Oklahoma City Thunder have positioned themselves as one of the top challengers to end Miami's championship run.
Then both Durant and the Thunder were humbled by the Heat in a deflating setback.
Oklahoma City will try to bounce back from its worst loss in nearly three years Sunday when it hosts a Los Angeles Clippers team trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season.
The Thunder (43-13) have compiled the NBA's best record, while Durant leads all players in scoring with 31.4 points per game. He's been riding a particularly torrid stretch of late, averaging 35.3 over his last 23 contests.
But both Durant and his squad were seemingly knocked down a peg in Thursday's 103-81 home loss to the Heat. Billed as a showdown between the league's top two players, Durant scored 28 points but was largely outshined by James, who scored 33 and set the tone with 16 in the first quarter alone as Miami started 13 of 14 from the floor.
Meanwhile, Durant was just 1 for 5 with two points in the first 12 minutes as Oklahoma City fell behind 34-17 on the way to its most lopsided defeat since a 23-point loss at Orlando on Feb. 25, 2011. Thursday's result also ended the club's nine-game home winning streak.
"When you don't have good rhythm, normally the three-ball can get you back into the game," said coach Scott Brooks, whose team was a season-worst 2 of 20 from beyond the arc.
Durant was 1 for 6 from distance and is 5 for 22 over his last three contests.
Russell Westbrook - returning after missing 27 games following right knee surgery - got off to a quick start with a breakaway dunk in the first minute. He finished with 16 points over 24 minutes, though he was just 4 of 12 from the field and had four turnovers compared to two assists.
The Thunder have won four of five from the Clippers (37-20), but split two meetings this season in November with each team winning at home. Durant totaled 61 points and 18 assists and is averaging 30.8 points over his last nine matchups.
Los Angeles fell to 14-15 away from home with a 102-96 loss at Memphis on Friday. The Clippers, who have dropped two in a row after taking a three-game winning streak into the All-Star break, shot 38.8 percent, their lowest mark in their last 24 contests.
Blake Griffin had 28 points and 13 rebounds but was 10 of 21 from the floor after shooting 66.2 percent over his previous four games. Chris Paul was 4 of 13 and Los Angeles' reserves were a combined 1 for 10 while being outscored 43-7 by their Grizzlies counterparts.
"It was just one of those games that we missed a lot of easy ones," said Griffin, who totaled 49 points and 22 rebounds over the first two meetings with Oklahoma City.
Paul sprained his right thumb in the final seconds Friday but is expected to play.
Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins is expected to be sidelined with a strained left groin he suffered in the third quarter versus Miami. Rookie Steven Adams will likely start in his place.
Westbrook totaled 31 points on 12-of-31 shooting with eight turnovers in the first two meetings.
The Thunder are 15-1 at home against Western Conference foes.