This is the NBA Finals that David Stern dreams of at night and pleasures himself to during the day. The Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Miami Heat. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook vs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The league’s best teams pitting its brightest stars against each other on its biggest stage.
The advertising pitch pretty much sells itself. It all starts Tuesday night, and here’s my preview.
Heat Too Multifaceted
Besides both having meteorological collective noun as mascots, the Heat and Thunder have much in common. Both have two elite offensive players, as capable of splitting defenses and dunking as stepping into mid-range jumpers. Both teams’ youth enables fast-paced, transition offense designed to strike before an opposing defense sets. And both teams have role-players capable of big plays when called upon.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Heat just have more. When Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and apparently even Chris Bosh can all shoot three-pointers, the Heat’s offense becomes nigh-unguardable. And at their best, James and Wade may be the physically strongest players in the game (minus Dwight Howard), which has translated into numerous trips to the foul line (17.0 per playoff game for James and Wade combined, 13.3 for Durant and Westbrook).
James Harden gives the Thunder a little more depth, but not enough to overcome the myriad snipers the Heat can use to eat up leads quickly.
As if a deeper offensive bench isn’t scary enough, Miami also plays defense better than Oklahoma City. Miami allowed four-plus fewer points per game during the regular season, and that disparity has stretched to 7.6 points during the playoffs (88.1 vs. 95.7). Miami has also held opponents to lower three-point and overall shooting during the playoffs.
The Thunder might be able to hang with the Heat on the glass – they’ve averaged comparable own- and opposing-rebounds numbers in the postseason – but that won’t generate more than one or two extra possessions. As good as the Thunder are, they won’t beat the Heat four times with just a few extra possessions.
Expect the Thunder to make a few more exciting plays – they’re better at both steals and blocks – but expect the Heat to execute on such a high level the rest of the time it won’t matter.
Format Favors Miami
Oklahoma City gets home-court advantage for the series, but the Finals inexplicably uses a 2-3-2 format. Given that each team won at home during the regular season, the Thunder could easily return home for Game 6 facing elimination.
Amped up by a city (or state) that’s never before hosted a pro sports championship, expect the Thunder to take the first game. But the Heat have already failed once in the Finals – James and Wade and a rejuvenated Bosh aren’t going to allow the media to jump down their throats again. And all the attacks on Miami coach Erik Spoelstra will only motivate them further.
Durant, meanwhile, has never faced James’ often-negative press, and he’s 4 years younger than James. Durant knows that win or lose, no one will question the Thunder’s ability to eventually win a championship. Durant, on some level, is “just happy to be here.”
For Miami’s Big 3, however, the pressure is on to live up to the lofty standards they’ve set for themselves. That means more of the desperation that carried the Heat in Game 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and that’s bad news for the Thunder.
The Heat will figure out the Thunder in Game 2 and head back to Miami tied 1-1. The Thunder get one on the road, but that’s it. And while the Thunder even the series with a Game 6 victory, James explodes in Game 7 for the championship and Finals MVP honors.
Since I’ll be moving to McAlester, Oklahoma, as all this goes down, I’m rooting for the Thunder. But I just don’t think they have enough to beat a Heat team that fires on so many cylinders.
Pick: Heat in 7.