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Thunder's Road To Redemption Begins In Miami

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MIAMI, Florida -

It's Christmas Day, and the Thunder is playing basketball. As one of the league's premier teams, that's no surprise.

But while this will be Oklahoma City's third consecutive Christmas game, this one will be very different. The past two years, the Thunder has handled the Nuggets and Magic, respectively, in what we'll just refer to as "side-dish games."

This year, OKC is graduating from the kid's table to face the Miami Heat in the all-eyes-on-me main course.

And while the Nuggets and Magic (with Dwight Howard) were good competition, beating them means nothing more than another win in the record book. Beating Miami would mean so much more.

From a Thunder perspective, The NBA Finals was a disaster. Right when it looked like Kevin Durant might leapfrog LeBron James as the world's best player and OKC might overtake Miami as the NBA's team to beat, King James and the Heat dispatched the Thunder in five games to take the title.

It was a joyous occasion for the Heat fan (whoops, did I forget the s?) and a sigh of relief for the heavily-scrutinized James. And while it certainly was painful for Oklahoma City, it had a "this isn't over" feeling to it. Like the first movie in a highly-anticipated trilogy, fans were left hanging but could tell there was plenty of story left to look forward to.

Well, it's the second movie, and the Thunder's main nemesis is still standing in its path. A Christmas victory in Miami wouldn't make up for the NBA Finals, nor would it put any trophies in the case, but it would go a long way to helping their psyche.

When James Harden was traded for Kevin Martin and friends, the national media dismissed OKC and some went as far as to say the Thunder would never go back to the Finals and handed the Western Conference to the Lakers (predictions the Mayans would be proud of).

Well, the Lakers will wake up on Christmas morning below .500, while the Thunder has the best record in the NBA. It's clear this is a team on a mission to get back to the Finals and get redemption.

This game isn't about sending a message. Not to the media, the fans, the league or the Heat. OKC's players don't care what anyone else thinks, nor would LeBron & Co. be mentally affected with a loss.

This is about gaining the confidence to know they can beat the Heat. It's about getting back up after being knocked down, and attacking again.

The road to a championship is still going through Miami, but OKC's road to redemption begins on Christmas.

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