For the most part, this was many analysts’ pre-season finals prediction – with myself included.
With the exception of being down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder have been on cruise control in the postseason. The Heat, on the other hand, have been challenged since the Conference Semi-Finals against the Indiana Pacers. They’ve had to really put the effort to advance.
Both teams have reached their destination. Neither team is expecting nothing less than a championship. Which team will come away satisfied?
Miami has Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers. OKC has Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha. We know what Wade and Westbrook can bring to the table. Chalmers provides more of a scoring threat. He’s the one player that has the ability to get his own shot with his penetration to the basket. Sefolosha will be key as he has the task to guard Wade. Considering Wade struggled for some of the Pacers series and much of the Boston series, expect much of the same this series. Sefolosha will be the best wing defender Wade goes against.
The match-up everyone will focus on are the players many now consider the two best in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. If there is ever a time to amp up one’s defense, it would be beneficial for both to do so. Either way, both players will still get theirs, but that does not mean it needs to come easy. Serge Ibaka (or“Iblocka”) will make life tough in the paint with his shot blocking prowess, as well as the big body of Kendrick Perkins. This will be most fascinating as the Heat like to dominate points in the paint. As far as the rest of the Heat’s frontcourt, will Coach Eric Spoelstra insert Chris Bosh into the starting lineup?
Advantage: Thunder, slightly
This isn’t even close. The Thunder have the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in James Harden. He is better on his own than what the Heat bench offer. Harden is good enough to be a starter for them. The Heat have solid players off the bench in Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, and Joel Anthony. They each provide an asset that is useful to Miami. The problem is they are known to disappear from time-to-time.
Scott Brooks seems to holding his own. There hasn’t been any news about him as the Thunder continue to advance. Spoelstra has had his moments, however. The Heat could have very well loss the series because of calls like he made in Game 4. The play was set for LeBron to drive right when his entire left side was completely spacious. Therefore, LeBron drove into three or four defenders and the last possession became a waste. Also, he decided not to play Bosh in the fourth quarter of Game 5 because it was “not fair” to him. That was two games lost right there.
Advantage: Thunder, by default
It is clearly evident that the Thunder have not been on this stage before. The main nucleus of the Thunder is no older than 23. The Miami Heat have a three-time MVP who’s been on this stage a total of three times now, not to mention they have a Finals MVP too. The Thunder has one cog in five-time champion Derek Fisher. This is where he’ll really collect his paycheck.
With the Thunder having the advantage in almost every category, that must mean I’m picking them to win the championship. Unfortunately, not this time around.
For one, I picked the Miami Heat two years ago to win the championship in their second go at it. And two, the Miami Heat have been more battle-tested. Many of the past champions recently have gone through multiple challenges. The Boston Celtics were addicted to seven-game series. The Lakers struggled in first round series and beyond. Last year, the Mavs had to avoid another let down after blowing a 23-point lead to Portland.
Now, that isn’t to say the Thunder haven’t been battle tested. OKC had to come back from a 2-0 deficit. But Miami was on upset alert against the Pacers and on the brink of elimination against the resilient Celtics.
This will be the fifth match-up between MVP and scoring champion in the NBA Finals. For what it is worth, the scoring champion has won three of the four match-ups.
Look for that to change as James has to have the agenda that Durant will not win a ring before him. Time to put your foot down. If the championship doesn’t come to South Beach this year, then it never will as long as that team remains intact. The Thunder are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Prediction: Heat in six.
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