Miami Heat VS Oklahoma City Thunder: Breaking Down The NBA Finals Matchups

Anybody else feel like it was Christmas morning when they woke up today?

No, the presents weren’t set out under the tree when you came downstairs. You have presents in the form of previews, predictions and highlights to get you excited for the gift you’ll receive at 9pm tonight. It’s the biggest gift you’ll receive today and the one you’ll get the most enjoyment out of over the next two weeks.

Even after those two weeks, you’re going to want to relive them over and over and over again.

Tonight is Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat and the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s the Finals the majority of us predicted at the beginning of the season, as well as the Finals we were all hoping for based on the excessive amount of talent and athleticism running through the veins of a number of key players on both sides.

The matchup of LeBron James and Kevin Durant is enough to get us watching for the full 48 minutes. Not since the 1992 NBA Finals where Michael Jordan took on Clyde Drexler have we seen a matchup of this magnitude. The regular season MVP taking on the runner-up is legitimately as good as it could possibly get in a matchup.

However, we’ll get to individual matchups. There will be plenty of time for the analysis that comes with previewing and predicting the NBA Finals. For now, let’s just take a look at how these teams got here:

Oklahoma City defeated the Dallas Mavericks in the First Round 4-0, the Los Angeles Lakers in the Semifinals 4-1 and the number one seeded San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Finals 4-2. They won the final four games of the WCF, which came after the Spurs had won 20 straight games, including ten to start the postseason.

The Miami Heat’s strength of schedule hasn’t been close to being that difficult, but the team has had to deal with far more adversity in the form of an injured Chris Bosh. As the boost James Harden provides to the Thunder off the bench, Bosh is the boost he gives to the Heat via stretching the floor, hitting the mid-range jumper and making their presence felt down low.

To get to this point, the Heat had to defeat the New York Knicks 4-1, the Indiana Pacers 4-2 and the Boston Celtics 4-3. Miami played nine games without Bosh over the course of the Pacers and Celtics series, going 5-4 in the process. Fortunately for the Heat, Bosh returned in Game 5 against the Celtics and recently played 31 minutes in their Game 7 victory.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have put the team on they back tho’. While Wade has been chipping in his modest 23 points, five rebounds and four assists per game, LeBron James has picked up the slack as the MVP and pimp Don Juan that he is averaging 31 points, 9.6 boards, five assists and two steals per game. He’s also shooting 51 percent from the field.

LeBron recently averaged 34 points and 11 rebounds per against one of the league’s stingiest defense’s in Boston because he’s just the opposite of clutch.

James has been playing some pretty good competition, too. He took on Carmelo Anthony and Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler in round one, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert in round two and finally Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in round three. In round four, he can look forward to plenty of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.

Those will be his two foes for the next two weeks. Durant will be the initial and main assignment, while Ibaka will be the shot-blocker he’ll be looking to score over and around with the hope of getting him into foul trouble. However, with Chris Bosh on the floor, James may need to worry about Kendrick Perkins in the paint more than Ibaka.

If it comes down to that, then Dwyane ‘I got the shit’ Wade will have to start dunking on folks again:

Whatever it comes down to, I can tell you one thing and that is that this will be a series for the ages. It’s going to annihilate any past NBA Finals in the ratings battle, as well as the entertainment battle because never before have we seen so much talent, athleticism, ambition, drive, heart, resilience and determination on the same court between two teams.

These are two teams coming off frustrating ends to their 2011 postseason run. Both falling at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder saw their chances wiped out by a 4-1 series loss in the Conference Finals. 4-1 seems lopsided, right? Not in this case. The Thunder held a lead in the fourth quarter lead in every single one of those losses.

Sort of makes you think that the team wasn’t ready for that big stage last year. Are they going to react in a similar fashion to the completely new stage of the NBA Finals? Not to mention, can they also react and adjust correctly to the incredibly quick Miami Heat defense?

The Heat met the Mavericks in the NBA Finals and fell 4-2. It took me a little while to figure that out since I blocked the entire month of June out of my memory. Just watching a few seconds of LeBron James ‘highlights’ from that series leads me to remember how horrific he was in that series averaging 17 points per game, which was supported by that eight-point outing in Game 4.

I can tell you one thing–that’s not happening this year. LeBron is going to average at least 30 points per game against a Thunder team with not one individual defender that has a chance of stopping him. Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha will all get a chance to defend James and it will all most likely end up in the same fashion–bitter failure.

For now, let’s just take a look at the position-by-position breakdown:

Point guard: Russell Westbrook vs Mario Chalmers

It really doesn’t get much more lopsided than this.

Mario Chalmers has done an excellent job at filling in as the Heat’s third scoring option this postseason. In fact, he was the second scoring option many times against Boston because of the Celtics increased defensive pressure on Wade. As a result, it became Chalmers to the rescue.

Chalmers did make his presence felt, including a 22-point outing in the Heat’s Game 2 overtime victory against the Celtics. It was his three-pointers and aggressive driving that kept the Heat in the game after Boston seemingly failed to make any sort of mistake on either end o the floor in the first half.

He’s currently averaging 12 points and hitting 36 percent from deep. He’ll be a crucial component to this team as the Heat will need his shooting, quick hands and aggressive mentality. The Heat will be at their best if Chalmers is playing with the mentality of his three teammates.

However, Chalmers can play as aggressive as he wants and he still won’t come close to the level Russell Westbrook is on. The Thunder point guard is one of the quickest and most athletic players in the league, with a mid-range game to boot.

If Westbrook has a flaw, it’s his willingness to take that jumper. He doesn’t utilize his athleticism as much as he should, and is more willing to settle for a quick mid-range jumper than either driving or facilitating a play.

He’s posted up 22 points, five boards and five assists per game. We’ll most likely see Dwyane Wade defending Westbrook for the most part since it’s extremely hard to believe that either Chalmers or Norris Cole has any chance in keeping up with the extremely strong and extremely athletic Westbrook.

Advantage: Thunder

Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade vs Thabo Sefolosha

Well, it will be Wade vs Sefolosha first before Dwyane eventually gets Thabo into foul trouble, which should be every game.

It’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. I’ve seen Dwyane Wade in two NBA Finals and he went berserk in both averaging 36 points per game in 2006 and 27 on 54 percent shooting last year, despite going against a zone defense that’s solely meant to restrict the scoring of people who play like Wade.

We cannot judge Wade on his series against Boston. He struggled because the Celtics made it a point to throw aggressive double teams at the point of his attack. Those constant double teams came as a result of Chris Bosh being out of the lineup. We saw in the fourth quarter of Game 7 just how much of an influence Bosh has as a shooter; he truly will make you pay for leaving him open from anywhere.

Sefolosha is a great wing defender with plenty of length that should give Wade some trouble at first, but it’s not going to be enough to stop a motivated Dwyane that’s been looking to bust at the seams after a slow Conference Finals.

Advantage: HEAT

Small forward: LeBron James vs Kevin Durant

Yes. Yes. Yes. This. Is. Awesome.

LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. The MVP taking on the runner-up MVP; the league’s top small forward squaring off with the league’s second best small forward; the league’s current face going head-to-head with a fresh, likeable face that the majority of the league’s moronic fairweather fans will root for.

That’s what James like to see. He doesn’t want anybody on his side. He likes being the underdog the Heat currently are. He’s been scrutinized and criticized for the past two seasons and I’m certain that he’s really looking forward to the comparisons between himself and Durant.

Except for the part where you realize these two players aren’t similar in the slightest. Durant has a scorers mentality who heavily relies on his jump shooting, while James is a natural born facilitator who relies heavily on his driving ability. Aside from being small forwards, these two are nothing alike at nearly every face of the game.

Durant is going to get his this series. No matter what happens, Durant’s still going to end up averaging 30 points per because he finds ways to score. He can hit jump shots from anywhere, has the length and athleticism to drive if he feels like it and can get to the foul line because of just how difficult he is to defend.

His offense is nice, but what about his defense? It’s certainly improved, but it’s not going to be nearly enough to put any sort of cork on LeBron James and the rhythm he’s currently in. Durant’s length will be a factor when James finishes and takes jumpers, but it’s tough to believe that he’ll have the strength and endurance to keep up with LBJ on both ends of the floor.

That’s exactly where the problem lies for Durant: he has to play two ends of the floor. He and the Thunder have yet to play a team as quick and athletic as LBJ and the Heat. If they attempt to run, then they can look forward to the Heat running with them. The Heat will win that battle every single time because of the defense they can provide that OKC can’t.

That’s why the edge here goes to James. As incredible an offensive player he is, he still has to play defense and that just might start wearing on him late in games and in this series.

Advantage: HEAT

Power forward: Serge Ibaka vs Chris Bosh

Chris Bosh was the reason why the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics and he will be the reason why his team either wins or loses this matchup with the Thunder.

Bosh was sorely missed against the Pacers and Celtics. Without him, it allowed the likes of Roy Hibbert and Kevin Garnett to roam around on defense freely. The Heat couldn’t drive as much as they preferred, pick-and-roll’s were impossible to run with guys like Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem, and they lacked the one consistent shooting stroke on the roster.

Was it any coincidence that the Heat blew the Celtics out in their final two games with Bosh playing at least 28 minutes in both contests? Of course not. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Chris Bosh is the most important player on this Heat team.

He’s a huge dual threat playing at a position where most players his size are comfortable playing in the areas he excels in. His mid-range game is one of the best in the league and his quick first step is far too fast for any average power forward or center to react to in time to defend effectively. Most importantly, however, he drags an opposing big man out to the perimeter and out of the lane.

That’s going to be critical with Serge Ibaka, the league’s top shot-blocker during the regular season. In order for the Heat to come up victorious, Bosh is going to need to keep Ibaka out of the paint and in foul trouble. Serge isn’t too experienced in defending the perimeter and should find himself out of his comfort zone whenever Bosh is on the floor.

As a result, we may just see more Nick Collison on Bosh than Ibaka. If that occurs, it means that either Ibaka or Kendrick Perkins’ playing time will be significantly cut on account of the Thunder needing a defender to consistently stop Bosh’s perimeter attacks.

If the Heat can get Ibaka out of the lane and in foul trouble, this series is all but over in their favor. However, we also must see how confident Bosh is in his driving ability after hurting himself in Game 1 against Indiana by way of a drive that ended awkwardly.

Advantage: HEAT

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs Udonis Haslem

Why yes, this is a horrible matchup, thank you for pointing that out.

Plain and simple, the Heat don’t have anybody who can matchup with Kendrick Perkins down low. However, the perk is that Perkins isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut that’s going to threaten you with 20 points and 10 boards per game. The most he provides is an intimidating scowl and some bumps and bruises.

Oh, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade really don’t like him. Neither does Udonis Haslem, who called out Perkins following their last meeting:

I think sometimes people just use the TVs and the cameras and the crowd, you know, to put on a show. I don’t think he’s all that he shows out there on the court. I think anybody can be a tough guy with a thousand people watching on TV and referees who call fouls and stop the game and different things like that. I don’t seeing him being any tough guy that he puts on the show to be, at all … If we were playing at the park, I don’t think he’d be doing all that.”

Ho! Ho! Shots fired! That’s the kind of talk you’re so glad you heard in a meaningless regular season game between the two because it’s going to mean so much in a seven-game series between these two.

Haslem’s mid-range game and rebounding is going to be a necessity this series. He’s going to need to start hitting that jumper of his to get Perkins out of the lane and he needs to rebound in case Bosh isn’t back to 100 percent. You could ask of James’ help, but I think he might be too wound up playing Kevin Durant.

Unless Haslem’s jumper returns, this advantage goes to the Thunder mainly because of Perkins’ presence in the middle. While he doesn’t put up many impressive stats, he’s still a bruiser and will make life difficult for those who attempt to drive on the Thunder defense.

Advantage: Thunder

Bench

Yeah, this isn’t close at all. The Thunder possess the league’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year and the Heat’s sixth man is a broken down shell of a player who somehow used to make jump shots on a consistent basis.

James Harden is going to be a huge factor this series. With Dwyane Wade being expected to defend Westbrook, it’ll most likely fall upon either LeBron James or Shane Battier to keep up with the elite shooter. See, that pickup of Battier truly was one of the largest acquisitions of the offseason.

Think if this was last year. The Heat would have had Mike Miller defend James Harden and that’s not fun for anybody, including Harden who probably would have just felt bad.

Harden is just as good a passer as he is a shooter. He’s currently converting nearly two three-pointers per game at a 45 percent clip and has been one of the main reasons why the Thunder are now four games away from the first championship since the late-1970’s. It’s going to be a tall task for whichever stellar defender of Miami’s who draws the short straw of defending Harden.

Following Harden, the talent level drops off. Nick Collison will provide a mid-range game, rebounding and defense; Derek Fisher provides veteran leadership and a perimeter game; Daequan Cook delivers a perimeter game; and Nazr Mohammed provides some needed size.

What’s there to say about the Heat’s bench? It’s been dreadfully inconsistent and nonexistent for the most part. Mike Miller is gross; Norris Cole fell off months ago; and Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf are good defenders and rebounders, but provide nothing on offense. Shane Battier–the team’s leading three-point threat this postseason– will be the most reliant if he’s coming off the bench.

However, we might also see Chris Bosh start this series off the bench. He provided a huge spark to this team in Game 7 with his 18 points and nine boards and could match the energy and intensity that Harden provides when he comes off the bench. Miami may use Bosh as a way to counter him.

Advantage: Thunder

The prediction: Heat in six

Is it even possible to make a prediction after the postseason we just witnessed? We don’t know what type of injuries may occur, the incredible scoring performances that take place or how tightly the officiating calls this game. There are so many factors that we have no control over that have led us to this point in the postseason.

My reason for giving the Heat the nod in this series? Finals experience and defense.

This is the third time Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been to an NBA Finals. Wade made it in ’06 and ’11 and James made it in ’07 and ’11. These two know how insane the pace and physicality is on this stage of the game, while the Thunder will primarily have star players that have never reached this level.

Like I said before, if the Thunder weren’t ready for the Conference Finals last year, could we believe that they’re ready for the NBA Finals against an opponent that is completely different from the team’s they’ve played in the conference playoffs?

Defense is the biggest factor, however. The Thunder don’t have the individual defenders to stop LeBron James, who is playing the best basketball he’s ever played and that is scary. As aggressive as James has been at every facet of the game over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to believe the wiry Kevin Durant is going to stop him from producing as well as he has.

The Thunder haven’t faced a defense like Miami’s. Sure, the Heat don’t have the inside presence that the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs provided, but they have the speed and athleticism to compensate for it and cover more ground than any defense you’ll ever see. With the Heat wearing the Thunder down on both ends of the floor, Oklahoma City could find themselves drained near the end of every game, which also occurs on account of the amount of jump shots they take.

Don’t forget that the first body part to go when fatigue begins to play a factor are the legs. You know? Those things that are essential for getting lift on your jumpers.

James will get tired, but he’ll keep driving and getting trips to the foul line. Durant will get tired, but will still be relying on that jumper, which will only become more contested once the fourth quarter hits and LeBron’s in dick-kicking mode.

There you have it. Win or lose, this is going to be an incredible series and I hope we can appreciate it without having some bald, senile official attempt to take it over.

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