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The Miami Heat's Shane Battier, left, and Chris Bosh, right, defend against theOklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka in the second quarter at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. The Thunder won, 112-95. (Pedro Portal/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)

LeBron James ready for Carmelo and Knicks

MIAMI -- LeBron James perhaps pays attention to statistics more than any other NBA player.

He follows the game on a daily basis, at times offering numbers on opponents that would impress any stat geek.

That wasn't the case after the Miami Heat's Thursday practice. For once, James had little interest in a statistical question posed because it dealt with his performance the previous night against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

The focal point the day after was Durant's efficiency while being guarded by James. Durant scored 21 of his 33 points against James, making 9 of 17 from the field.

As for that stat, James said, "I don't care about that stuff."

It was one of the few times an opposing player had his way with James since joining the Heat. Durant defeated James for the first time in six games while strengthening his case for regular-season most valuable player, an award James has won the last two years.

"For the most part, I was in his face on a lot of them," said James, who scored 34 points against the Thunder. "I gave him a couple looks. Every minute I was out there and he was out there, I made sure I was on him. I was just trying to put a body on him but he's a guy who can score the ball with the best of them."

James did a solid job on Durant, who has scored at least 30 points in 12 straight games, in the first quarter. Durant then scored 26 points over the next three quarters, leading OKC's 112-95 rout. It was the Heat's worst home loss this season.

"We played well defensively but they made some tough shots," James said. That's a tough shooting team and they made them."

James referred to some of the shots the Thunder made, particularly Durant's, as "uncontest-able." Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was surprised by the media and fan reaction considering Durant has always been a scorer.

He is just in the national spotlight more during his historic month. Durant's 30-point game streak is the longest since the Orlando Magic's Tracy McGrady had 14 straight in 2002-03.

"He's approaching his prime," Spoelstra said. "He's not even there yet. You just get better. You read the game better. When we played them in the Finals two years ago, he was an exceptional scorer back then."

Teammates came to James' defense by saying Durant hit several tough shots, mostly long jumpers. The average distance on Durant's field goal attempts when directly guarded by James was 20.8 feet.

The Heat's 20 turnovers made the assignment even tougher, with Durant being able to score in transition, too.

"Generally, you live with long twos," forward Shane Battier said. "You live with jumpers. The numbers over time usually win out. It happens. As a team, we didn't keep Durant out of transition and that allowed him to go off. We did a pretty good job on him in the first quarter. Nothing came easy for him. We turned the ball over, they got in transition and that's when scorers are dangerous."

Things get no easier for James. The Heat face Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Earlier this week, James referred to Anthony and Durant as the two toughest covers in the NBA.

Anthony is the league's second-highest scorer at 27.1 points a game.

"It's not too much of a difference -- two scoring machines," James said. "We know they will put you in a lot of (isolation) situations. You just got to try to make it tough on them. They're going to make shots."

For James, it comes with the job. He considers facing the league's best scorers on back-to-back nights no different than any portion of the schedule.

"It's a tough defensive stretch every single night," James said. "It's how your approach it. For me, I take pride on that end. That's what this league is about."

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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MIAMI HEAT


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