The Miami Heat continue to sputter toward the finish line.
With a playoff spot already locked up, the Heat is now 0 for 2 in its quest to lock up the Southeast Division title. Monday night, even an 18-point first quarter lead wasn’t enough.
Behind 27 points from Paul George and the 25th triple-double of the season by Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Heat 39-12 in the fourth quarter and locked up a playoff spot with a 115-93 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Westbrook, needing 34 rebounds over his last two games to average a triple-double for the second consecutive season, finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists as the Thunder (47-34) went on a 21-2 run to close out the game.
With Monday’s loss, the Heat (43-38) is still in play for the No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the East. Miami can clinch the division title and no lower than the No. 7 seed with a win Wednesday over the Raptors (59-22) or a loss by Wizards (42-36) in one of their final two games.
To finish with the No. 6 seed, the Heat would need to beat the Raptors on Wednesday and for Milwaukee to lose one of its last two games (the Bucks were hosting Orlando Monday night). The Heat would finish with the last playoff spot if it loses Wednesday and the Wizards win their last two games.
Monday’s home loss was only the third for the Heat in its last 14 home games.
The Heat, which lost 122-98 Friday at the Knicks, opened the game on a 12-0 run — tied for its best start to a game this season — and enjoyed its biggest lead at 23-5 after the Thunder opened the game by missing its first 10 shots. But that 18-point lead quickly shrunk after James Johnson and Hassan Whiteside went to the bench with two fouls each and Paul George and Russell Westbrook started making shots.
Miami, which outscored the Thunder 36-6 in the paint over the first two quarters, ended up taking a 52-49 lead into the break in part because it was 1 of 10 from three-point range and OKC was 7 of 17 from beyond the arc.
The Heat led OKC 81-76 after three quarters before the Thunder finally took its first lead, 85-84, on a Corey Brewer layup with 10:28 remaining.