Skip to content

NBA Finals Preview: Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Jun 10, 2012, 2:02 PM EDT

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.

Latest Posts
  1. LeBron says he’s ‘got three very good friends in this league,’ none play for the Cavaliers

    Mar 31, 2015, 2:59 PM EDT

    Lebrion James, Dwyane Wade AP

    LeBron names his three, and says after that he has ‘a bunch of teammates.’

  2. Report: Rockets’ Patrick Beverley to need four months of recovery following season-ending surgery

    Mar 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Patrick Beverley AP

    It had been hoped that Beverley might be available to return later in the postseason.

  3. Thunder say Kevin Durant underwent successful bone graft surgery, will return in 4-6 months

    Mar 31, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT

    Kevin Durant AP

    We already knew Durant was done for the season, but the Thunder have updated his status.

  4. Draymond Green no longer selling ‘Cool story, Glenn’ shirts, may miss next game vs. Clippers

    Mar 31, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Draymond Green AP

    Green is trying to downplay rivalry with Clippers coach, and is dealing with inflammation in his shins.

  5. Kyrie Irving on his relationship with LeBron James: ‘I don’t want to say it’s not been rocky at all’

    Mar 31, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT

    Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers Getty Images

    Things are clicking now in Cleveland, but it wasn’t that way at the beginning of the season.

  6. Flip Saunders (sort of) makes up with Jazz broadcaster after ripping him for saying Timberwolves were tanking

    Mar 31, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT

    Flip Saunders AP

    Interaction ended with a handshake, but it seemed evident Saunders remained displeased.

  7. Lance Stephenson receives DNP-CD in Hornets’ loss to Celtics

    Mar 31, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Charlotte Hornets v Sacramento Kings Charlotte Hornets v Sacramento Kings

    Hornets were fighting for a playoff spot, but their big free agent acquisition sat on the bench.

  8. Kings considering shutting down DeMarcus Cousins for remainder of season

    Mar 31, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT

    DeMarcus Cousins AP

    Team has nothing left to play for, and Cousins has some nagging injuries.

  9. Jordan Clarkson hits game-winner to give Lakers overtime win over Sixers (VIDEO)

    Mar 31, 2015, 8:40 AM EDT

    Philadelphia 76ers V Los Angeles Lakers Philadelphia 76ers V Los Angeles Lakers

    Great win — except for the fact that it may help cost the Lakers their draft pick this summer.

  10. Kyle Korver scores 11 points in 65 seconds (VIDEO)

    Mar 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks Getty Images

    In a season where Kyle Korver’s three point shooting has at times seemed inhuman this may be his best shooting display.

  11. Blazers sign guard Tim Frazier for the remainder of the season

    Mar 31, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT

    Tim Frazier, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Tim Frazier, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

    He won’t replace Wesley Matthews, but he’s another body.

Featured video

Clippers playoffs? MCW shooting? Your twitter questions answered.
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. H. Whiteside (6430)
  2. K. Durant (5880)
  3. K. Martin (5865)
  4. K. Lowry (5665)
  5. G. Monroe (5324)
  1. D. Wade (5296)
  2. D. Rose (5287)
  3. R. Rubio (5260)
  4. B. Knight (5248)
  5. P. George (5055)