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NBA Finals Preview: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Jun 10, 2012, 2:02 PM EST

Russell Westbrook, LeBron James AP

SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (2 seed in East)
Oklahoma City 47-19 (2 seed in West)

SEASON SERIES

The teams split their two meetings. Miami won the last meeting on April 4 98-93 because LeBron James had a monster game and Heat players were knocking down their spot up looks. In the meeting just more than a week before (March 25) the Thunder won handily when they got 19 points from Serge Ibaka and 16 from Kendrick Perkins.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession/NBA rank)

Miami: offense 106.6 (8th); defense 100.2 (4th)
Oklahoma City: offense 109.8 (2nd); defense 103.2 (10th)

THREE KEY HEAT:

LeBron James: He deserved to be the MVP in the regular season and he has continued that level of play into the playoffs — 30.8 points a game on 50.8 percent shooting with a PER of 31.2, plus playing a key role on defense. Incredible. And none of that will matter for his legacy if the Heat don’t win it all — no matter how he plays he will take the blame with many fans if the Heat come up short in this series. He was not comfortable being painted as the villain last season and this finals will be contrasted as the “good” Thunder against the “evil” Heat by many. Wrongly, but that will be the perception. He will have to deal with that, or at least tune it out.

Bottom line for Miami — LeBron simply cannot be good in this series, he needs to be spectacular for the Heat to win.

Dwyane Wade: He has been good in the playoffs — 22.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting — but he also needs to elevate his level of play if the Heat are to win the series. OKC brings a lot of long, athletic defenders to the table and Wade will have Thabo Sefolosha draped over him. He needs to get into the paint, break down the Thunder defense. At the other end of the court he needs to help Miami create a pressure defense that slows the Thunder’s powerful offense or this series will go poorly for Miami. Normally we’d expect this from Wade, but he’s clearly been slowed by something (knee injury still bothering him?) and he has to get back to his elite leve of play at both ends to win this series.

Chris Bosh: We saw in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against Boston why he is key — defensive big men can’t hang near the basket and defend the rim if they have to respect Bosh out to the three point line. As Erik Spoelstra has long said, Bosh may not be the best player on the Heat but he is the most important — he opens up driving lanes for Wade and LeBron. Expect Bosh to get a lot of touches as the Thunder use both Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins to defend him, but both of those guys want to be in the paint. He also needs to crash the boards this series.

THREE KEY THUNDER:

Kevin Durant: The best pure scorer in the game today, he has a silky smooth jumper with an impossible to block release point and seemingly unlimited range. (That said, he was not the MVP this year — LeBron put up similar offensive numbers with more efficiency and had to do more on defense. This was not Durant’s year for that hardware, move on.) Miami is going to have some athletic, long defenders on him — including LeBron — and Durant is going to have to continue to score at a high rate. He is going to have to make plays late in close games. He is the heart of the Thunder offense.

James Harden: He is more than just a stunning beard. He is is the Thunder’s big advantage in this series — Miami gets no production out of its bench, Harden is the NBA Sixth Man of the Year averaging 17.6 points per game through the playoffs. He is their best playmaker and is shooting 44 percent from three in the post season. Miami has to find a way to account for him because when Miami goes to its bench they get worse, while Harden makes the Thunder better. If he has a big series Miami will struggle to match him.

Serge Ibaka: He has become an amazingly efficient shooter in these playoffs — his midrange jumper is falling consistently and that just gives Oklahoma City another offensive weapon. And they don’t need one. When OKC beat Miami in the regular season he had 19 points, do that again four times and the Thunder will win. But his real key will be on the defensive end — the long armed shot blocker will spend time on both Chris Bosh and LeBron James this series. If he can slow them down, make them less efficient (particularly James), it will be hard for the Heat to keep up with the Thunder’s scoring.

OUTLOOK

This could be an epic finals. These are two very athletic teams who have guys that can simply take over a game and not be stopped. These are two very entertaining teams to watch, two teams who wouldn’t mind a track meet at times. Miami’s ability to defend can be key, but they have been inconsistent with execution at both ends all season and all playoffs long — if they have lapses against Oklahoma City the price will be severe.

Oklahoma City has been a great offensive team that plays enough defense to win, but when Miami has the ball the Heat will face some challenges. Oklahoma City brings some very long and athletic defenders to the table in Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, plus they have the very aggressive Russell Westbrook and the long arms of Kevin Durant. They contest everything and get in the passing lanes with that length. Then they use those turnovers to get out and run. Miami has to get into the teeth of the defense with penetration — if they settle for contested midrange shots they will lose. Well, one game LeBron will go off and drain those like he did against the Celtics in Game 6, but the Heat cannot sustain their offense that way. They need to get inside and kick out to Bosh and Chalmers to knock down shots.

Role players knocking down jumpers is key for the Heat – when they beat OKC in the regular season they shot better than 50 percent on their spot-up looks, when they lost the week before they shot 7-21 on spot up looks. Those have to fall for the Heat.

Oklahoma City will put up points, this is a powerful offensive team, but they have not run into a defense this athletic before. If Miami can pressure rushed shots and create turnovers to run on they will have an advantage. But they have to finish those transition looks — Oklahoma City has athletes that will run and challenge you on the break. This series is going to see some great chase down blocks, just watch.

Miami is in the same boat it has been the last two rounds of the playoffs — they can win this series if LeBron James and/or Dwyane Wade is playing exceptional basketball, but if those are merely good it is not enough. Miami has to play great defense, they need a role player to step up. But they can win this. The problem is the margin for error against the Thunder is much smaller than they have seen all playoffs. They cannot take halves off, they cannot coast. If Miami plays up to its potential they can win this, but are they capable of that?

PREDICTION

Thunder in six.

In the last round, down 2-0 to the Spurs, Oklahoma City was able to make defensive switches called for by coach Scott Brooks and turn the tide of that series. San Antonio hadn’t lost in 20 games and the Thunder swept them the next four. OKC’s ball movement improved. They did what contenders do. They are playing at a very high level.

Miami has been good enough to move on, beating a resilient team with good defense in Boston, but they have done it with spurts of execution and good defense. They slumped the second half of the season and did not build good habits to bring into the playoffs, and this is where it will cost them. They will fall in the finals to a better team for the second straight year.

  1. abchome - Jun 10, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    Thunder in four or five.

    • duane888 - Jun 11, 2012 at 3:06 AM

      You have money to back that up??

  2. daniel10017 - Jun 10, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    I agree with this perdiction. Spoelstra is NOT the coach that will propel the Heat to the championship. He will fully understand that once the Heat fire him after the finals. There is no doubt in my mind that Phil Jackson/Pat Riley will be behind the Heat bench come October.

  3. seahawksbmx - Jun 10, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    HEAT UP!

  4. fanz928 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    If durant gets shut down it’s over and it’s likely to happen

    • pudgalvin - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:13 PM

      Because the Thunder have no one else that can score…

      • turnmymicup - Jun 10, 2012 at 8:51 PM

        Durant is just as important to the Thunder as LBJ/Wade are to the Heat. Don’t kid yourself.

    • scalfor3 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      yeah just shut down durant. easy. done.

      • turnmymicup - Jun 10, 2012 at 9:07 PM

        Nobody said anything about easy but its very possible. If you could pick one small forward to guard Kevin Durant who would it be? Without even thinking your brain just said LeBron James. KEEP IT REAL. Even if I wasn’t a Heat fan my first choice would still be LeBron. He has the capability to make stars look like middle schoolers. Give respect where it is due. Their is a reason LBJ is MVP and its not his offense or silky smooth jumpshot. Miami’s defense will prevail this year. Go Heat!

      • scalfor3 - Jun 10, 2012 at 9:17 PM

        lebron is a great defender, but durant will get his no matter who is on him. he’s the best pure scorer in the game. the best you can hope for is to slow him down and make him work hard for his points

    • bigmeechy74 - Jun 11, 2012 at 3:34 AM

      yeah that is likely to happen. He always gets shut down. That’s why he leads the league in scoring every year. Plus they are just a one man team. Good analysis fanz928

  5. lanza2 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    Call me crazy but Miami in 5

    • lyndseymarieee - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:35 PM

      You’re crazy. :]

  6. reapecuadorministry - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Miami has the Eye of the Tiger and will not be denied a championship this year. The Thunder will be champions one day but not this year. The Heat is the leagues best team with the greatest stars and exceptional coaching. Spoelstra did what was necessary to beat Boston by out coaching Doc Rivers. James, Wade and Bosh will all have a spectacular Finals and humble Durant, Westbrook and the lumberjack.

    Miami Heat 2012 NBA Champions!! The second of many more!

  7. reapecuadorministry - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Lebron James is the greatest player ever!

    • cantonbound13 - Jun 11, 2012 at 7:47 AM

      You obviously just started watching the NBA.

  8. mungman69 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Pat Riley and Phil Jackson hate each other.

  9. scalfor3 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    thunder in 6. they are younger, more athletic and more talented than the team that just took the heat to 7 games. they have their own “big 3″ that might be as good as miami’s and are much deeper.

  10. cantonbound13 - Jun 10, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    OKC in 5!

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 10, 2012 at 9:50 PM

      You know how much more fun you’re making this for us don’t you?

      • cantonbound13 - Jun 11, 2012 at 7:51 AM

        20 years from now your new name will be 2006wasalongtimeago. LOL!!

      • heat256 - Jun 11, 2012 at 11:18 AM

        Canton can change his name to thelasttimeihadsexwasalongtimeago. Don’t feed the trolls. They grow like ponmd scum here. I won’t make a prediction because this could go either way and quick. Both teams have the talent to win it quick or going the distance. The little things will be what wins it. As an NBA fan, I want to see it go 7, with both teams not giving an inch. As a Heat fan, I’d love it to go 4 or 5 and watch them celebrate on their floor. I was out of the country in 2006 and had to listen to them win it on the phone with someone who knew little about basketball and I was robbed of the elation of watching them win it all. I would like to experience that firsthand if the gods allow it.

  11. labratre - Jun 10, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Yeah, just like San Antonio was the 2012 champs. You people don’t know! Going to be a great series, save the predictions, enjoy!

    • lucky5934 - Jun 10, 2012 at 4:36 PM

      If you wait until after the series, than it isn’t a prediction. So because a few people had San Antonio then that all of a sudden means that everyone can not make a prediction? I had Heat-Thunder in the finals as well. OKC in 6 games as well.

  12. gotampabay52 - Jun 10, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    Heat will win

  13. josekicks - Jun 10, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    Heat in 6

  14. mannyfresh209 - Jun 10, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    Are the Thunder “much deeper”, as people are suggesting?

    Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Fisher?, Collison?, Sefo?

    Against LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Chalmers, Miller, Battier, Anthony, Cole, Jones.

    I’d say people are really underrating the Heat. It’s the Playoffs, the stars are going to play 85-90% of the game-time minutes. Gonna be a great, great series!!!

    • letangusespertplus - Jun 10, 2012 at 8:04 PM

      yeah they are much deeper cause chalmers cole anthony and jones wouldn’t get to see the floor if they played on OKC.

    • scalfor3 - Jun 10, 2012 at 9:21 PM

      the thunder’s role players are much more consistent than the heats. also, the thunder are far more balanced by having one of their stars come off the bench.

    • turnmymicup - Jun 10, 2012 at 10:33 PM

      Over the past day i’ve been thinking the same thing. How are the Heat so outmatched? Besides for Westbrook vs Chalmers spots 2 through 5 are even. Everyone is putting pressure on the Heat’s stars to be excellent. Like the Thunder don’t have to do the same damn thing.

      • xLith - Jun 10, 2012 at 11:35 PM

        It’s not the starting 5 that is a concern for the Heat. It’s what comes after. Fear the beard.

      • duane888 - Jun 11, 2012 at 3:04 AM

        @xlith

        Lebron is super-human. He doesn’t need to go to the bench for a rest. He does it on the floor. The beard will be cut down by Lebron.

    • passerby23 - Jun 10, 2012 at 11:55 PM

      First off, you forgot Perkins. Mohammed and Cook can also provide sporadic minutes.

      I’m not sure I’d call Cole and Jones impact role players. They don’t play much and, yes, they have their moments, but if we’re comparing benches, Thunder is better. Mike Miller is half a player out there with his ailing back.

      I think this prediction is bang on. Thunder in 6.

      • mannyfresh209 - Jun 12, 2012 at 2:05 AM

        Passerby, I also left out Haslem. Cook might hit 3 buckets all series. Mohammed….no.

        I mean seriously, people put a lotttt of stock in to OKC’s bench, but remember…Bosh looks like he could continue coming off the bench as well.

        Again, I think it’ll be a really great series!

      • passerby23 - Jun 13, 2012 at 6:43 AM

        How did Miami’s bench look last night? Spoelstra sure had a lot of confidence to go with Jones, Turiaf, Anthony, and Cole. Oh wait, he shortened his bench because he can’t trust them.

        With OKC, you can count on production from Collison, Harden, and Fisher. Mohammed and Cook are not regular contributors, but not bad when called upon. Does Juwan Howard give you that?

        Total bench points last night: MIA 2 OKC 19

        And that was with Cook inexplicably missing 2 FTS, Harden having an off night, and Mike Miller making a meaningless layup near the end of the game.

  15. borderline1988 - Jun 10, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    Heat in 6.

    The Thunder have not played a defense like the Heat’s so far in the playoffs. They were able to beat the Spurs because the Spurs had no ability to defend Durant when he decided to pour it on. Miami has the personnel to defend Durant in Lebron and Battier.

    The Thunder’s defense lives off steals and blocks and other stat-stuffing plays. If Miami concentrates and doesn’t turn the ball over (leading to fast break points), I like their chances.
    I like Miami’s half-court game…sometimes they are not overly efficient but they can real bang with opposing teams and they tend to wear you down over the course of a game.

  16. truthhurtstoo - Jun 10, 2012 at 6:16 PM

    HEAT IN 6- BOOK IT!

  17. lastdukestreetking - Jun 10, 2012 at 6:27 PM

    OKC in 6. Could be start of a big run for the Thunder that the Heat can only dream of.

  18. isujames - Jun 10, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    First off P Riley and P jackson don’t hate each other,it just won’t happen.Secondly the heat will win in six, with atleast one game being a blowout.

  19. patfic15 - Jun 10, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    Maybe next year Heat fans!

  20. simonwelds - Jun 10, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    Heat haven’t seen an offense or player like Durant ..,. Okc hasn’t seen a defense or a player like LBJ…. I think the second superstar on each team will make the difference. If we see the erratic ball hog version of Westbrook the heat win… If we see the Dwayne Wade that we’ve seen over the past few games Okc wins… Plain and simple

    • turnmymicup - Jun 10, 2012 at 11:14 PM

      No not plain and simple at all. Far from it actually. Which “Dwayne Wade” are you talking about? I hope not the one thats been heating up in the second half and helping his team win games. You think he is hurting the team but thats far from reality. With LBJ going HAM the first two quarters Wade plays his part on the defensive end. Coming out in the 2nd half with energy and hungry to get his share. I love the adjustments Spo makes at half times. He finds a way to get Wade and the other guys focused. Spoelstra is a great coach. He doesn’t get enough credit for his work.

      • scalfor3 - Jun 11, 2012 at 12:57 AM

        if wade doesn’t play better than he has, the heat wont have a chance. the wade that we saw take over against indy has to show up. the thunder have the scoring to keep up with miami, boston didn’t

      • simonwelds - Jun 11, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        Not saying wade is playing bad, he’s doing his job on defense and picking his offensive moments, the point is too keep up with Okc we need the ” flash” version of wade… He’s too good to succumb to being a role player, he’s still a top 5 player…..

      • simonwelds - Jun 15, 2012 at 2:45 PM

        I think the last 2 games proved my point

  21. xLith - Jun 10, 2012 at 11:39 PM

    I understand fans supporting their team but do Heat fans REALLY think they stand a remote chance against the Thunder? They barely beat the Boston Relics.

  22. passerby23 - Jun 10, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    What Miami had going for them is that they simply had more individual talent to lean on to win series. That’s not the case here. Thunder can match them in talent and are playing better ball. Thunder in 6.

  23. gopokes0714 - Jun 11, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    Thunder crushed the Heat and ran LBJ out of the gym in OKC.

    LBJ and the Heat brought their “playoff” game to the game the week later in Miami and barely pulled it out.

    the 2-3-2 favors the home court advantage team more than the 2-2-1-1-1. Being that is easier to grab an away game when it is 3 in a row.

    Thunder went through the 3 previous western conference winners since 1998. Sweeping the defending world champions. Beating the franchise of the decade in 5, and beating the odds on favorites in 6.

    The Heat were the heavy favorites once the Bulls were out, yet struggled to get there.

    Hopefully this lives up to the hype and the Heat can make it a series.

    I think Harden, Fisher, and Ibaka will be the key to the series, and the Thunder are just too much TEAM for the Heat. If Lebron goes off for 40+ the Heat lose.

    Thunder in 5 #thunderup

    #ThunderUp

    • letangusespertplus - Jun 11, 2012 at 7:08 AM

      Fact is the Thunder lost 3 games to better teams all playoffs. Heat lost 3 last series…. meditate on that.

      If LeBron has to play hero ball and get 50% of the scoring to keep his team in it they will get murked out there.

      #thunderup

      • mannyfresh209 - Jun 12, 2012 at 2:12 AM

        The Heat lost with CB out. Lol and c’mon now.. Indiana would smoke Dallas, and Boston would give LA and SA problems because of the way KG was playing off of Rondo.

  24. connect2bh - Jun 11, 2012 at 2:59 AM

    You have battier guarding durant while lebron plays help on him, meanwhile, durant has to guard lebron on the other end..Miami matches up just a bit better. Plus Miami wont lose again in the finals two years in a row. Its Miamis year. Gottem next year Durant

  25. Louis Tumblin - Jun 11, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Do Pat Riley and Phil Jackson even like each? Can’t see Jackson coaching Heat if they lose this series.

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